SA online media could soon get code of ethics, regulatory system

iab south africa

The Interactive Advertising Bureau South Africa (IAB), a voluntary non-profit body which represents the interests of the South African digital industry, has announced that it will be spearheading efforts aimed at creating a cross-platform news media code of ethics.

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The body, which was previously known as the DMMA, today announced that it has entered into discussions with the South African Press Council to explore the viability of the code as well as a voluntary editorial content regulatory system. The envisaged code, it says, will apply to news content across both print and online publications.

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.

According to the IAB, 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.

News of the effort to build a self-regulating framework comes in the wake of the Film and Publications Board’s announcement last week around proposed policy to regulate online content. The IAB says the FPB has yet to acknowledge or respond to several approaches made by the IAB.

Read more: Is IAB’s Rising Star ad format another nail in banner advertising’s coffin?

In a statement, the IAB claims that there is “broad consensus between the bodies on the fundamental principles underpinning a cross-platform code of ethics and regulatory system”.

It adds that 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).

The proposed regulatory regime will reportedly 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.

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