By Staff writer

The Interactive Advertising Bureau South Africa (IAB), representing the country’s online media and marketing industry, has entered into discussions with the South African Press Council to explore the viability of a cross-platform news media code of ethics and voluntary editorial content regulatory system. The envisaged code shall apply to news content across both print and online publications.

As a result of media convergence, with traditional and new media outlets all operating in the digital space, various news media industry bodies, including the South African National Editor’s Forum (Sanef), the Press Council, the IAB and broadcast role players have, since last year, been in discussions about the need for a cross media code of conduct. The goal is to ensure that media outlets report in a fair and ethical manner that protect vulnerable groups, particularly children, and that people who feel aggrieved by news reporting on any platform would know where to turn.

There is broad consensus between the bodies on the fundamental principles underpinning a cross-platform code of ethics and regulatory system. A dedicated working group has been established to determine what shape such a system could take. The working group has been assisted in this task by research into international precedents for cross-platform regulation conducted by the Media Policy and Democracy Project, a collaborative research project between the Department of Communication Science at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

Informed by this research, as well as the various parties’ extensive experience in adjudicating press complaints, the working group is currently investigating the establishment of a voluntary regulatory regime across media platforms that will cover newsrooms’ editorial content, their social media activities and their handling of user-generated content on their platforms.

On the recommendation of the Press Freedom Commission, chaired by the late Chief Justice Pius Langa, the Press Council in 2012 instituted a system of voluntary independent co-regulation, with a public advocate helping complainants to resolve their problems with news reporting in the best possible way. The Council also deals with online publications of their print members, often in consultation with the IAB. The IAB currently has its own code, but lacks a formal complaints adjudication and content regulation infrastructure.

Broadcast complaints are dealt with by the Broadcast Complaints Commission of SA (BCCSA), operating in terms of Icasa and broadcast legislation, which does not cover broadcasters’ online services. As a result primarily of significant legislative obstacles, it is unlikely that traditional broadcast media would fall within the ambit of the proposed cross-platform regulatory system.

On a related note, the Film and Publications Board last week formally introduced its proposed policy to regulate online content, a copy of which also appeared in Thursday’s Government Gazette. The IAB has had earlier sight of an unreleased draft of the policy document, and has written to the FPB to raise its concerns about the process and proposed regulations, requesting an opportunity to meet with the FPB to make formal submissions. The FPB has yet to acknowledge or respond to several approaches made by the IAB. is a member of the IAB

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