The South African National Editors' Forum (Sanef) confirmed the launch on Monday of an Inquiry into Media Ethics, with a panel of commissioners headed by retired judge Kathleen Satchwell.
This after it noted a "number of disturbing trends in our industry", such as the erosion of public trust, decline of editorial independence owing to issues such as the encroachment of media owners and shrinking newsrooms linked to large-scale retrenchments.
Sanef in a statement said it noted that trust in journalism had eroded in the era of fake news and misinformation, as well as journalists sometimes backing certain political factions, which had muddied the waters by tainting the whole industry.
"The aim of this inquiry is to investigate what went wrong with some of our journalism in recent years and how we can fix these gaps and loopholes so that trust and alliances between us and the public can be built," it said.The panel would interview media ethic experts and academics, media owners, editors and journalists as well as members of the public and interested parties, including civil society stakeholders, political parties, government departments and business organisations.
"The inquiry will gather evidence and will draft a report with clear recommendations for strengthening industry ethics and credibility."
Expected to be presented at an industry conference a year from now, the conference would adopt an action plan to strengthen the ethics of the industry and to look at ways to prevent the state and corporate capture of journalists, Sanef said.
The forum said it was also alarmed by large-scale retrenchments, pointing out that the latest State of the Newsroom Report, published by Wits Journalism, had quantified this because about half of the professional journalist workforce had been slashed from about 10 000 to about 5 000 over the past decade.
"This has been taking place after declining circulations. As a result, media companies have been putting the squeeze on newsrooms. The trend in South Africa appears to follow those in the developed world where advertising has moved off to the large media tech companies such as Facebook and Google. The business model of the past for journalism is over," Sanef said.
In addition to the inquiry, the forum aims to strengthen the industry by looking into a campaign to tax large tech companies through co-operation with government and civil society as well as embark on research into new models of journalism, noting that public funding and philanthropy appear to be new trends now.