By Jon Herskovitz
DURBAN, Sept 22 (Reuters) - South Africa's ruling AfricanNational Congress pressed on Wednesday for a new tribunal topunish unscrupulous reporting that has been heavily criticisedas a plan to muzzle the media.
The ANC's media panel met behind closed doors at the party'sNational General Council, one of its most important politicalevents in years, to iron out details of the planenthusiastically embraced by its leaders.
The influential international media group, the Committee toProtect Journalists, has said the media rules are reminiscent ofdraconian apartheid-era press laws and could stunt democracy.
The proposed Media Appeals Tribunal is designed toinvestigate complaints and punish irresponsible reporting, theANC has said.
Media organisations said the tribunal was a bid to crushinvestigative reporters who regularly expose corruption and holdthe government accountable in a country where the ANC has a neartwo-thirds majority in parliament.
Separately, parliament is considering an information billANC lawmakers said is designed to protect state secrets, butwhich media groups believe could hinder investigations.
If passed, the bill would also restrict access toinformation from regulators and state-owned enterprises. Criticssay that could cut investors off from information affectingequity, treasury and foreign exchange markets..
OPEN ARMS FOR BUSINESS
During the first two days of the week-long meeting, the ANCeased concerns among investors by rejecting proposals todrastically devalue the rand and nationalise mines in theworld's fourth largest gold producer.
There had been speculation President Jacob Zuma could try toadopt left-leaning policies proposed by allies including thepowerful labour federation COSATU to help mend strainedrelations with the group and firm up his popular support.
Zuma reassured investors that he was pro-business as hetoured a corporate exhibition hall near ANC deliberation venues.
"Business (and) the ruling party don't have a problem. Weare together," Zuma said. Zuma's financial policy makers havemostly steered clear of imposing new regulations on firms thatdrive the economy, part of the G20 group of powers.
Zuma risks leaving the meeting in a weakened position if hecannot win back traditional supporters on the left or find newones among the pro-business ranks in his divided ANC. That couldhurt him over the remainder of his term expiring in 2014.
Separately, an ANC spokesman tried to ease concerns about acostly plan to speed up the expansion of national healthinsurance, saying it would not result in a tax increase for abudget already under strain by a wage raise deal to end a strikeby about 1.3 million state workers.
Jackson Mthembu said the ANC was not expecting more taxes topay for the scheme but could find the funds its needs "fromtaxes that are at this point in time in existence."
But Nomura International emerging markets economist PeterAttard Montalto said he expected tax increases.
"As we expected, taxes will therefore be rising soonerrather than later. There will be additional payroll taxes andVAT. We expect these to start mid next year in preparation forNHI the following year," Attard Montalto said in a researchnote.
Apart from the media debate, one ANC panel was discussingpolicy toward the rand. The central bank and the South Africangovernment have worried about the impact of a strong rand onexports and manufacturing.
The rand hit a new 2-1/2 year high of 6.98 against thedollar on Wednesday and has gained almost 27 percent since thestart of 2009. (Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by MariusBosch and Ralph Boulton)