The New Age newspaper has confirmed it is to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Press Council. The Media Online reports.
“This decision was not taken lightly but followed much internal debate,” said CEO of The New Age and African News Network 7, Nazeem Howa. Asked why the Gupta-owned media company had decided to take this route, he told The Media Online the reasons were “a matter for discussion between the Ombud and ourselves”.
Gavin Davis, the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow minister of communications, said the timing of the decision was interesting. “It follows a DA complaint to the Ombudsman on 3 February regarding a front page article in The New Age that defended government’s disproportionate advertising expenditure on The New Age,” he said.
Davis said in a statement that The New Age had missed “a series of deadlines” to respond to the complaint before Howa wrote to the press ombudsman on 25 February to confirm the newspaper would be withdrawing from ombud processes.
Howa said The New Age was in the process of appointing its own “independent ombudsman to deal with complaints against the paper”. He said he had asked the ombudsman to forward all existing complaints and that The New Age would ensure they were dealt with via an independent third party.
“We will naturally stand by that ruling and invite the DA to forward its complaint to us,” Howa said.
Davis said the story about which it complained was an “egregious breach of the Press Code, and the DA’s complaint against the newspaper would almost certainly have been upheld. So it appears that, to avoid the embarrassment of apologising and retracting the story, The New Age decided to withdraw from the Ombudsman process altogether”.
Davis isn’t convinced an internal ombudsman would in fact be independent. “The problem with this approach is obvious. An ombudsman on the payroll of a newspaper cannot be viewed as independent when adjudicating complaints against that newspaper,” he said, adding that The New Age was an “unashamed pro-government newspaper, owned by close friends of the President. And The New Age continues to receive the lion’s share of government advertising, despite its small readership, in return for coverage favourable to the government”.
Davis said the withdrawal from the Ombudsman process could see The New Age’s “pro-government bias to escalate dramatically. Nobody will be surprised if this is rewarded with even more publicly funded government expenditure on advertising”, he said.