The Africa Media Group in support of The Press Council of South Africa and the Interactive Advertising Bureau South Africa and Sheqafrica.com have adopted the following Code for online media publishers (together referred to as “the publisher”).
The media exists to serve society. Their 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 provides that:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:
(a) Freedom of the press and other media partner;
(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 Publisher strives to hold these rights in trust for the country’s citizens; and they are 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 partner, the public and government, who all make up the democratic state.
The Publisher’s work is guided at all times by the public interest, understood to describe information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens.
As publishers we commit ourselves to the highest standards, to maintain credibility and keep the trust of the public. 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, exhibiting sensitivity to the cultural customs of our readers and the subjects of our reportage, and acting independently.
Chapter 1: Media partner-generated content and activities
Gathering and reporting of news
The Publisher shall take care to report news truthfully, accurately and fairly.
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.
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 reasonable 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.
News should be obtained legally, honestly and fairly, unless public interest dictates otherwise.
The gathering of personal information for the purpose of journalistic expression must only be used for this purpose.
Publisher representatives shall identify themselves as such, unless public interest or their safety dictates otherwise.
Where there is reason to doubt the accuracy of a report or a source 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.
The Publisher shall seek the views of the subject of critical reportage in advance of publication; provided that this need not be done where the institution has reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so it would be prevented from reporting; where evidence might be destroyed or sources intimidated; or because it would be impracticable to do so in the circumstances of the publication. Reasonable time should be afforded the subject for a response. If the media partner is unable to obtain such comment, this shall be reported.
Where a news item is published on the basis of limited information, this shall be stated as such and the reports should be supplemented once new information becomes available.
The Publisher shall make amends for presenting information or comment that is found to be inaccurate by communicating, promptly and with appropriate prominence so as to readily attract attention, a retraction, correction or explanation.
An online article that has been amended for factual accuracy should indicate as such. In the event of an apology or retraction, the original article may remain, but the publisher must indicate in a prominent manner that it has led to an apology or retraction – and should link to both the apology/retraction and the original article.
No person shall be entitled to have an article removed which falls short of being defamatory, but is alleged by such person to be embarrassing.
Authors shall not plagiarise.
Independence and Conflicts of Interest
The Publisher 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 media partner’s independence and professionalism.
The Publisher shall not accept a bribe, gift or any other benefit where this is intended or likely to influence coverage.
The Publisher shall indicate clearly when an outside organisation has contributed to the cost of newsgathering.
Editorial material shall be kept clearly distinct from advertising and sponsored content.
Privacy, Dignity and Reputation
The Publisher shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving the private lives and concerns of individuals. The right to privacy may be overridden by the public interest.
In the protection of privacy, dignity and reputation, special weight must be afforded to South African cultural customs concerning the privacy and dignity of people who are bereaved and their respect for those who have passed away, as well as concerning children, the aged and the physically and mentally disabled.
The Publisher shall exercise care and consideration in matters involving dignity and reputation. The dignity or reputation of an individual should be overridden only if it is in the public interest and in the following circumstances:
- The facts reported are true or substantially true; or
- The reportage amounts to fair comment based on facts that are adequately referred to and that are true or substantially true; or
- The reportage amounts to a fair and accurate report of court proceedings, Parliamentary proceedings or the proceedings of any quasi-judicial tribunal or forum; or
- It was reasonable for the information to be communicated because it was prepared in accordance with acceptable principles of journalistic conduct and in the public interest.
The article was, or formed part of, an accurate and impartial account of a dispute to which the complainant was a party.
Rape survivors and survivors of sexual violence shall not be identified 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.
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 interests of the child.
Protection of Personal Information
For the purpose of this clause “personal information” is as defined in Section 1 of the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.
The Publisher should take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information under their control is protected from misuse or loss, and to prevent unauthorised access to such information.
The Publisher should ensure that the personal 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 Sheqafrica.com, the media partner must take steps to verify the accuracy of the information and, if necessary, amend the information.
Some personal information, such as addresses, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage. To minimise these risks, the media partner should only disclose sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news.
Where it is reasonably suspected that an unauthorised person may have obtained access to personal information held by Sheqafrica.com, the media partner must inform the affected person(s) and take reasonable steps to mitigate any prejudicial effects.
Discrimination and Hate Speech
Except where it is strictly relevant to the matter reported and it is in the public interest to do so, the media partner shall avoid discriminatory or derogatory 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.
The Publisher 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 propaganda for war, incitement of imminent violence, or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.
Members are justified in strongly advocating their own views on controversial topics, provided that they treat their constituencies fairly by:
- making fact and opinion clearly distinguishable;
- not misrepresenting or suppressing relevant facts; and
- not distorting the facts.
The Publisher shall be entitled to comment upon or criticise any actions or events of public interest.
Comment or criticism is protected even if extreme, unjust, unbalanced, exaggerated and prejudiced, as long as it:
- expresses an honestly-held opinion;
- is without malice;
- is on a matter of public interest;
- has taken fair account of all material facts that are substantially true; and
- is presented in such manner that it appears clearly to be comment.
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 Publisher, applying the spirit of this section, shall therefore:
- 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;
- not publish child pornography;
(Child Pornography is defined in the Film and Publications Act as: Any visual image or any description of a person, real or simulated, however created, who is or who is depicted or described as being, under the age of 18 years, explicitly depicting such a person who is or who is being depicted as engaged or participating in sexual conduct; engaged in an explicit display of genitals; participating in or assisting another person to participate in sexual conduct which, judged within context, has as its predominant objective purpose, the stimulation of sexual arousal in its target audience or showing or describing the body or parts of the body of the person in a manner or circumstance which, in context, amounts to sexual exploitation); and
- 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.
Violence, Graphic Content
Due care and responsibility shall be exercised by the media partner with regard to the presentation of brutality, gratuitous violence, and suffering: material which, judged within context, should not sanction, promote or glamorise violence or unlawful conduct, or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, or mental or physical disability.
Content which depicts violent crime or other violence or explicit sex should be avoided unless the public interest dictates otherwise, in which case prominent indication and warning must be displayed indicating that such content is graphic and inappropriate for certain audiences such as children.
Headlines, Posters, Pictures and Captions
Headlines and captions to pictures shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the report or picture in question;
Posters shall not mislead the public and shall give a reasonable reflection of the contents of the reports in question; and
Pictures and/or video or audio content shall not misrepresent or mislead nor be manipulated to do so.
Confidential and Anonymous Sources
The Publisher shall:
- protect confidential sources of information – the protection of sources is a basic principle in a democratic and free society;
- 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; and
- not publish information that constitutes a breach of confidence, unless the public interest dictates otherwise.
Payment for Information
The Publisher 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.
Chapter 2: User-generated content
This section applies where a complaint is brought against Sheqafrica.com in respect of comments and content posted by users on all platforms it controls and on which it distributes its content.
The Publisher is not obliged to moderate all user-generated content in advance.
All members should have a policy in place governing moderation and/or removal of user-generated content or user profiles posted on the platforms (“UGC Policy”).
Sheqafrica.com’s UGC Policy shall be consistent with the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
Administrators may remove any user-generated comment, content or user profile in accordance with their UGC Policy.
Sheqafrica.com’s UGC policy is publicly available and:
- Sets out the authorisation process, if any, which users who wish to post comments must follow as well as clearly setting out any terms and conditions and any indemnity clauses during such registration process;
- Sets out clearly the content which shall be prohibited;
- Explain the manner in which the public may inform Sheqafrica.com of prohibited content.
Members should, where practicable, place a notice on the platforms with the aim to discourage the posting of prohibited content.
The public should be informed that UGC is posted directly by users and does not necessarily reflect the views of Sheqafrica.com.
Users shall be encouraged to report content which they believe violates the provisions of Sheqafrica.com’s UGC Policy.
Online forums directed at children and the young should be monitored particularly carefully.
Material constitutes prohibited content if it is expressly prohibited in Sheqafrica.com’s UGC Policy.
In addition to, and notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in Sheqafrica.com’s UGC Policy, content which contains the following:
- Propaganda for war;
- Incitement to imminent violence;
- Advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm constitutes prohibited content for the purpose of this Code.
Defence in relation to user-generated content
It is a defence, in relation to any complaint brought to the Press Council regarding UGC, for Sheqafrica.com or the Media Partner to show that it did not itself author or edit the content complained of.
This defence will not apply in the following circumstances:
- the complainant sent a written notice to Sheqafrica.com in relation to the content concerned, and
- Sheqafrica.com failed to remove the content in accordance with clause 15(d) below.
The written notice in clause 15)b) i) must:
be sent via email or letter to the particular address stipulated by Sheqafrica.com;
identify the content concerned and, in particular, specify where on the website the statement was posted; and
must explain why the content concerned is prohibited either in terms of Sheqafrica.com’s UGC Policy or clause 14(b) above.
Upon receipt of a written notice complaining about UGC, Sheqafrica.com must:
- remove the relevant UGC from the platform as soon as operationally possible and notify the complainant that it has done so; or
- decide not to remove the UGC and notify the complainant of this decision.
Where Sheqafrica.com has decided not to remove the UGC:
the complainant may complain to the Ombud in terms of clause 1.3 of the Complaints Procedures;
it will be treated as if the UGC had been posted by Sheqafrica.com itself, and Sheqafrica.com will be liable for such content if it is shown to be prohibited in terms of clause 14 above.