The Code of the South African Press Council, in operation from 15 October 2011.
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 time, a role whose centrality is recognised in the South African Constitution. Section 16 of the Bill of Rights sets out that:
“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.
“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 holds 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 striving for the maximum truth, avoiding unnecessary harm and acting independently.
We adopt the following Code:
1. Reporting of News
1.1 The press shall be obliged to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.
1.2 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.
1.3 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 opinions, allegation, rumour or supposition, it shall be presented in such manner as to indicate this clearly.
1.4 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 mentioned in such report.
1.5 A publication should seek the views of the subject of serious 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. If the publication is unable to obtain such comment, this shall be stated in the report.
1.6 A publication should 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.
1.7 Reports, photographs or sketches relating to indecency or obscenity shall be presented with due sensitivity to the prevailing moral climate. A visual presentation of sexual conduct should not be published, unless public interest dictates otherwise.
1.8 Journalists shall not plagiarise.
2. Gathering of news
2.1 News should be obtained legally, honestly and fairly unless public interest dictates otherwise.
2.2 Press representatives shall identify themselves as such, unless public interest dictates otherwise.
3. Independence & 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.
4.1 The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals, bearing in mind that any right to privacy may be overridden only by a legitimate public interest.
4.2 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.
4.3 The HIV/AIDS status of people should not be disclosed without their consent, or in the case of children, without the consent of their legal guardians.
5. Dignity & Reputation
The press shall exercise exceptional care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation, bearing in mind that any right to privacy may be overridden only by a legitimate public interest.
6. Discrimination and Hate Speech
6.1 The press should avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental disability or illness, age, or other status except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported.
6.2 The press should not refer to a person’s race, colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or preference, physical or mental disability or other status in a prejudicial or pejorative context except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported.
6.3 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 which amounts to hate speech.
A publication is justified in strongly advocating its own views on controversial topics provided that it treats its readers fairly by:
7.1 Making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable;
7.2 Not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts;
7.3 Not distorting the facts.
8.1 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.
8.2 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.
8.3 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.
Definition of Child Pornography
For purposes of this Code, “child pornography” shall mean: “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 circumstances which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation, or in a manner capable of being used for purposes of sexual exploitation.”
9.1 Child pornography shall not be published.
9.2 Exceptional care and consideration must be exercised when reporting on matters where children under the age of 18 are involved. If there is any chance that coverage might cause harm of any kind to a child, he or she should not be interviewed, photographed or identified unless a custodial parent or similarly responsible adult consents or a public interest is evident.
9.3 The press shall not identify children who have been victims of abuse or exploitation, or have been charged with or convicted of a crime.
Due care and responsibility shall be exercised by the press with regard to the presentation of brutality, violence and atrocities.
11. Headlines, Posters, Pictures and Captions
11.1 Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question.
11.2 Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question.
11.3 Pictures shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.
12. Confidential & Anonymous sources
12.1 The press has an obligation to protect confidential sources of information.
12.2 The press shall avoid the use of anonymous sources unless there is no other way to handle a story. Care should be taken to corroborate the information.
12.3 The press shall not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence unless a legitimate public interest dictates otherwise.
13. Payment for Articles
The press shall avoid chequebook journalism where informants are paid, particularly when criminals are involved, except where the material concerned ought to be published in the public interest and the payment is necessary for this to be done.