SOUTH AFRICAN PRESS CODE

Preamble

The press exists to serve society. Its freedom provides for independent scrutiny of the forces that shape society, and is essential to realising the promise of democracy. It enables citizens to make informed judgments on the issues of the day, a role whose centrality is recognised in the South African Constitution.


Section 16 of the Bill of Rights sets out that:


1. “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:

a) Freedom of the press and other media;

b) Freedom to receive and impart information or ideas;

c) Freedom of artistic creativity; and

d) Academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

 

2. “The right in subsection (1) does not extend to

a) Propaganda for war;

b) Incitement of imminent violence; or

c) Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.”


The press strives to hold these rights in trust for the country's citizens; and it is subject to the same rights and duties as the individual. Everyone has the duty to defend and further these rights, in recognition of the struggles that created them: the media, the public and government, who all make up the democratic state.

Our work is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens.

As journalists, we commit ourselves to the highest standards of excellence, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of our readers. This means always striving for truth, avoiding unnecessary harm, reflecting a multiplicity of voices in our coverage of events, showing a special concern for children and other vulnerable groups, and acting independently.

We adopt the following Press Code:


1. Gathering of news


1.1 News should be obtained legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise.

 

1.2 The gathering of personal information must be for the sole purpose of publication and no personal information may under any circumstances be used for any other purpose or disclosed to a third party unrelated to journalism. Where a journalist gathers personal information, the reporter is obliged to inform the person of the intention to use that information for publication unless such disclosure will prejudice the publication of the information.


1.3 Press representatives shall identify themselves as such, unless public interest or their safety dictates otherwise.


2. Reporting of News


2.1 The press shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.


2.2 News shall be presented in context and in a balanced manner, without any intentional or negligent departure from the facts whether by distortion, exaggeration or misrepresentation, material omissions, or summarisation.


2.3 Only what may reasonably be true, having regard to the sources of the news, may be presented as fact, and such facts shall be published fairly with due regard to context and importance. Where a report is not based on facts or is founded on opinion, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.


2.4 Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report and it is practicable to verify the accuracy thereof, it shall be verified. Where it has not been practicable to verify the accuracy of a report, this shall be stated in such report.


2.5 A publication shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication; provided that this need not be done where the publication has reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so it would be prevented from publishing the report or where evidence might be destroyed or sources intimidated. Reasonable time should be afforded the subject for a response. If the publication is unable to obtain such comment, this shall be stated in the report.


2.6 A publication shall make amends for publishing information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, a retraction, correction or explanation.


2.7 Reports, photographs or sketches relating to indecency or obscenity shall be presented with due sensitivity to the prevailing moral climate. A visual presentation of explicit sex shall not be published, unless public interest dictates otherwise.


2.8 Journalists shall not plagiarise.


3. Independence and conflicts of interest


3.1 The press shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non- professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press's independence and professionalism.


3.2 Journalists shall not accept a bribe, gift or any other benefit where this is intended or likely to influence coverage.


3.3 The press shall indicate clearly when an outside organisation has contributed to the cost of newsgathering.


3.4 Editorial material shall be kept clearly distinct from advertising.


4. Privacy, the Protection of Personal Information, Dignity and Reputation


4.1 The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by a legitimate public interest.

4.2 The press should take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information under its control is protected from misuse, loss, or unauthorised access.

4.3 Journalists must take reasonable measures to secure personal information under their control to limit and prevent unlawful access to the processing of such information.

4.4 Journalists are required to ensure that the information they gather is accurate, reasonably complete and up to date. Where a person requests a correction to be made to his or her personal information under the control of a journalist, the reporter must take steps to verify the accuracy of the information and, if necessary, amend the information accordingly.

4.5 Some personal information, such as addresses or other identifying details, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage, and their families. To the extent lawful and practicable, the press should disclose only sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news, so that these risks can be reasonably avoided.

4.6 Where security measures that protect personal information have been compromised, the journalist or publication controlling that information, must inform the affected person(s) and take reasonable steps to mitigate any prejudicial effects.


4.7 The press shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation. The dignity or reputation of an individual should be overridden only by a legitimate public interest and in the following circumstances:


4.7.1 The facts reported are true or substantially true; or


4.7.2 The article amounts to fair comment based on facts that are adequately referred to and that are true or substantially true; or


4.7.3 The report amounts to a fair and accurate report of court proceedings, Parliamentary proceedings or the proceedings of any quasi-judicial tribunal or forum; or


4.7.4 It was reasonable for the article to be published because it was prepared in accordance with acceptable principles of journalistic conduct and in the public interest.


4.8 The identity of rape victims and victims of sexual violence shall not be published without the consent of the victim or in the case of children, without the consent of their legal guardians (or a similarly responsible adult) and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), and a public interest is evident, and it is in the best interest of the child.


4.9 The HIV/AIDS status of people should not be disclosed without their consent. In the case of children, the HIV/Aids status of the child should not be disclosed without the consent of the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child) together with the consent of their legal guardian or a similarly responsible adult, provided that such disclosure is in the public interest and it is in the best interest of the child.


5. Discrimination and Hate Speech


5.1 Except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported and it is in the public interest to do so, the press shall avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth or other status, nor shall it refer to people’s status in a prejudicial or pejorative context.


5.2 The press has the right and indeed the duty to report and comment on all matters of legitimate public interest. This right and duty must, however, be balanced against the obligation not to publish material that amounts to:


5.2.1 Propaganda for war;


5.2.2 Incitement of imminent violence; or


5.2.3 Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.


6. Advocacy


A publication is justified in strongly advocating its own views on controversial topics provided that it treats its readers fairly by:


6.1 Making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable;


6.2 Not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts; and


6.3 Not distorting the facts.


7. Comment


7.1 The press shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest provided such comments or criticisms are fairly and honestly made.


7.2 Comment by the press shall be presented in such manner that it appears clearly that it is comment, and shall be made on facts truly stated or fairly indicated and referred to.


7.3 Comment by the press shall be an honest expression of opinion, without malice or dishonest motives, and shall take fair account of all available facts which are material to the matter commented upon.


8. Children


The Bill of Rights (Section 28.2) in the South African Constitution states: “A child's best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.” The press, applying the spirit of this section, shall therefore:


8.1 exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she shall not be interviewed, photographed or identified without the consent of a legal guardian or of a similarly responsible adult and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), and a public interest is evident.

8.2 not publish child pornography.

Child Pornography is defined in the Film and Publications Act as: Any image or any description of a person, real or simulated, who is or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years, engaged in sexual conduct; participating in or assisting another person to participate in sexual conduct; or showing or describing the body or parts of the body of the person in a manner or parts of the body of the person in a manner or circumstance which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation.


8.3 not identify children who have been victims of abuse, exploitation, or who have been charged with or convicted of a crime, without the consent of their legal guardians (or a similarly responsible adult) and the child (taking into consideration the evolving capacity of the child), a public interest is evident and it is in the best interests of the child.


9. Violence


Due care and responsibility shall be exercised by the press with regard to the presentation of brutality, violence and suffering.


10. Headlines, Posters, Pictures and Captions


10.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question.


10.2 Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question.


10.3 Pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.


11. Confidential and anonymous sources


11.1 The press has an obligation to protect confidential sources of information.


11.2 The press shall avoid the use of anonymous sources unless there is no other way to deal with a story. Care should be taken to corroborate the information.


11.3 The press shall not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence, unless a legitimate public interest dictates otherwise.


12. Payment for Articles


The press shall avoid shady journalism in which informants are paid to induce them to give the information, particularly when they are criminals - except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.

4.2. Where leave to appeal is granted in terms of rule 3.9, the Ombudsman shall place before the Chair of Appeals all the documentation that he or she had before him or her.

4.3. The Chair of Appeals shall appoint one press member and up to three public members from the Panel of Adjudicators appointed in terms of clause 5.6 of the Constitution, to hear the appeal with him or her. The Chair of Appeals will have discretion on the number of public members he or she invites to hear an appeal with him or her.


4.3.1. A person employed by a publication which is the subject of the complaint, or with any other vested interest in the matter, may not serve on an Appeals Panel to consider the matter.


4.3.2. Members of the Panel of Adjudicators who heard a case with the Ombudsman may not be part of a panel hearing the appeal against the earlier decision.


4.4. The Chair of Appeals shall determine a date, time and venue for adjudication of the appeal, which shall be heard as soon as possible after receipt by him or her of the documents referred to in rule 4.1.


4.5. The Ombudsman shall inform the parties of the date and venue of the hearing before the Appeals Panel.


4.6. Both parties are expected to attend and address the Appeals Panel, which is, in any case, entitled to question them personally or in writing on the matter. Failure by the publication to send a representative may lead to the matter being adjudicated in their absence.


5. Hearings


5.1. Discussions between the Public Advocate and the complainant, on the one hand, and the publication, on the other, are private and confidential and are conducted on a without prejudice basis. No person may refer to anything said at these discussions during any subsequent proceedings, unless the parties agree in writing. No person may be called as a witness during subsequent proceedings in the Press Council or any court to give evidence about what transpired during the discussions.


5.2. The hearings of the Adjudicating Panel and of the Appeals Panel shall be open to the public unless the identity of a rape victim or victim of a sexual offence, a child under eighteen, or a victim of extortion is at issue.


5.3. The Public Advocate may assist the complainant at a hearing of the Adjudicating Panel or the Appeals Panel.


5.4. Legal representation shall not be permitted at hearings unless:


5.4.1. The Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals and all the other parties consent;


5.4.2. The Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals concludes that it is unreasonable to expect a party to deal with the dispute without legal representation, after considering:


5.4.2.1. The nature of the questions of law raised by the dispute;


5.4.2.2. The complexity of the dispute;


5.4.2.3. The public interest; and


5.4.2.4. The comparative ability of the opposing parties to deal with the dispute.


5.5. At the conclusion of a hearing, and after a Panel has reached a decision, both parties shall be entitled to address the Panel, personally or in writing, on sanctions and where appropriate mitigation.


6. Variation of Procedure


6.1. The Ombudsman or Chair of Appeals may, depending at which level the matter is being adjudicated, if satisfied that no injustice will result, and upon such conditions as he or she may impose:


6.1.1. Extend any time period contemplated in these rules;


6.1.2. At any stage require any allegation of fact to be verified on oath; and


6.1.3. Call on the parties to a dispute to furnish such further information as he or she may consider necessary.


7. Findings of the Ombudsman, Adjudication Panel, the Chair of Appeals and the Appeals Panel


7.1. The Ombudsman, the Adjudication Panel, the Chair of Appeals and the Appeals Panel may uphold or dismiss a complaint or appeal, as the case may be.


7.2. If a finding is made against a member of PMSA or a publication that has voluntarily become subject to the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman, the Adjudication Panel, or the Appeals Panel, as the case may be, may make any one or more of the following orders against the proprietor of the publication:


7.2.1. Caution or reprimand the publication;


7.2.2. Direct that a correction, retraction or explanation and, where appropriate, an apology and/or the findings of the Ombudsman, the Adjudication Panel, or the Appeals Panel be published by the respondent in such manner as they may determine.


7.2.3. Order that a complainant’s reply to a published article, comment or letter be published by the publication;


7.2.4. Make any supplementary or ancillary orders or issue directives that are considered necessary for carrying into effect the orders or directives made in terms of this clause and, more particularly, issue directives as to the publication of the findings of the Ombudsman, the Adjudication Panel, or the Appeals Panel.


8. Hierarchy of sanctions


 

8.1. A hierarchy of sanctions shall be applied:

 

Tier 1: Minor breaches

Examples of breaches

Hierarchy of sanctions

The Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals will give directions on the prominence of an apology

A stamp with the Council’s logo (to be supplied by Council) should accompany a ruling

Wrongly spelled names

Minor factual errors that do not change the thrust of the story

 

Sanctions, including an apology, on any inside page (but not on the front page), as directed by the Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals

 

 

Tier 2: Serious breaches

Examples of breaches

Hierarchy of sanctions

The Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals will give directions on the prominence of an apology

A stamp with the Council’s logo (to be supplied by Council) should accompany a ruling

Editors will be allowed to draft their own apologies, but they have to be approved by the Ombudsman, who makes the final decision

In imposing a sanction for publication on the front page, the publication’s design should be taken into account, allowing for a page 1 teaser and continuation on an inside page

 

Views of subjects of critical reportage not sought

 

Inaccurate or unfair reporting

 

Sanctions (reprimands, caution, corrections, retractions, apologies) with the Ombudsman’s or the Press Appeal ruling, on any inside page or on the front page (which may continue to an inside page)

 

Tier 3: Serious misconduct

Examples of breaches

Hierarchy of sanctions

 

The same as under Tier 2

 

Allowing commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting

 

The publishing of child pornography

 

 

In addition to the sanctions from Tier 2, the Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals may impose a “space sanction” ranging from a few centimeters to a full page for the complainant or the Press Council to use as determined by the Ombudsman or the Chair of Appeals


8.2. Monetary fines will not be imposed as a penalty for the content of the press. However, monetary fines according to a formula determined by the Press Council and included in this sub-clause and/or suspension for a period or expulsion from the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman may be imposed as sanctions for a respondent’s failure to appear for adjudication hearings and repeated non-compliance with the rulings of the adjudicatory system If it is reinstated because it complied with the conditions and then it defaulted again within twelve months, it would immediately be expelled from the system.8.3. When the Ombudsman finds that a publication is a repeat offender, he or she should specifically point this out in the ruling. If it occurred again, the Ombudsman man recommend that the Press Council convene a hearing to inquire into the repeated offences and ask the offender for an explanation and a plan to prevent recidivism.

9. Records


9.1. The Ombudsman shall cause any findings, and reasons for a finding to be sent to the complainant and to the respondent who shall comply with the Press Ombudsman Panel or the Press Appeals Panel’s orders or directives, if any.


9.2. The Ombudsman shall keep on record all findings and reasons for findings by the Press Ombudsman Panel or the Press Appeals Panel.


9.3. The records referred to in rule 9.2 shall be public documents except insofar as those documents identify a rape victim, a person who has been a victim of a sexual offence or a child under eighteen, or a victim of extortion or identify any other person whose identity is protected in the Press Code or by law.