South African online news outlet News 24 has created its first public editor position, appointing George Claassen to the role.
Claassen explained his position will provide accountability for News 24, “in the midst of the ‘clear and present danger’ of fake news.” In News 24’s announcement, he is quoted as stating:
“Journalists cannot hold other sectors of society, such as politicians, public figures and the private sector to account if they do not apply the same standards of responsibility and accountability to their own profession.”
Claassen previously was ombudsman for Media24’s community newspapers, according to News 24’s news story on his appointment, which notes: “As public editor, he will receive, process and address complaints from readers.”
Claassen told iMediaEthics by e-mail he will “mostly respond to readers’ concerns and/or complaints or comments,” as opposed to investigating proactively. ” I do not interfere with the news process proactively but try to establish and set standards through discussion of complaints with the editors and his senior staff.”
Claassen has an annual renewable contract, and will repor to News 24 editor Adriaan Basson, he told iMediaEthics. He said he will “have total independence with regard to decisions I make, although I believe through years’ experience as a press ombudsman, in a close relationship with the editor and his editorial staff regarding complaints and ethical issues. This establishes credibility with readers.”
Claassen told iMediaEthics he will write regular columns about media ethics issues that come up. “The aim of a column is to inform readers about media ethical issues and to put them into context,” he wrote. “Media ethics is often a grey area and every issue must always be seen in context. Our guidelines are the ethical code of conduct of the SA Press Council and the SA Pressombudsman.”
UPDATED: 1/25/2018 10:59 AM EST With comments from Claassen