So What’s News in the Elections? Events Not Issues: An Analysis of Media Coverage of the 1999 Elections

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In 1994 the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) monitored the media coverage of the first democratic elections. In our final analysis we found that the media’s reporting of the “liberation election” was characterised by a justified and important emphasis on the historic nature of the event and by balanced reporting. But while the reporting was balanced it was not informative. The reporting of the election was more about liberation than about policies and political issues.

For the 1999 elections things were very different. The goodwill and euphoria had been replaced by rigorous politicking, and the bread and butter issues of our society were expected to feature prominently in all the parties’ campaigns. Consequently the demands on the media would be significantly different and more difficult. The media would have to play a bigger role in giving the citizens of our country information, about parties and their policies, about the critical issues faced by our society and the solutions and proposals which the various parties offer. The media would have to play the role of equipping South Africans to make informed decisions at the polls rather than celebrating their freedom as they did in 1994. This would be the role of the media in a free, democratic society.

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