In defending freedom of expression, the legendary French philosopher Voltaire said: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend your right to say it.”

It is against this bulwark of liberal thought that I hold the reins of the Office of the Independent Group Ombud.

Excessive regulation, extreme censorship and banning of media by the Apartheid government is now history. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in our Constitution.

For democracy to work, the press has to be free. Journalists must not be the servants of vested interests. They must serve the interests of the public and be conduits of reliable information. The media must uphold accuracy, independence, fairness, impartiality and accountability.

And it is accountability that defines professionalism and responsible journalism. When we commit errors, we must correct them. As a media group, we must listen to the concerns of our audience, without whom we cannot exist. We must always provide remedies when we are unfair.

The culture of public communication has seen dramatic changes in the way information is received and disseminated. However, trust and confidence in ethical journalism remain as the cornerstones of responsible media organisations.

The Office of the Independent Group Ombud will strive to create credible self-regulation to sustain the respect of our audience. When media provide a process by which the audience, or specifically those subject to media scrutiny, are given a chance to air their complaints, it builds trust and improves the media’s reputation.

As the Ombud, I will continually place high value on fact-checking, objectivity and balanced reporting.

Our media titles will accept criticism and provide the right of reply and rectification to anybody who feels affronted or is directly affected by inaccurate or scurrilous information. The use of provocative, insulting and aggressive language is off limits. We will work within the parameters of the law and will correct mistakes without stalling.

Self-regulation of what we do, and how we do it, can only further develop social trust and provide greater support for freedom of expression.

After all, as media we seek to hold other parties to account and must also subject ourselves to checks and balances to uphold public trust.

Yogas Nair

Independent Group Ombud

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