How did the public broadcaster cover the 2019 elections?

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Media Monitoring Africa, a leading media research organisation in Africa, today launched its final report as part of a series analyses, evaluating the coverage of the 2019 National Elections by the South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC). You can find the full report here.

On May 8, for the 6th time since the advent of democracy in 1994, South Africans went to the polls to cast their ballot in the 2019 National and Provincial Elections. With an unprecedented 48 political parties contesting on the national ballot, choices for political representation were extensive and spread across ideological lines. As such, the bloated political landscape in terms of political parties contesting the 2019 elections, coupled with the many challenges plaguing the profession, can prove to be a momentous task to undertake, not only for the public broadcaster but for other news media as well. However, the public broadcaster, unlike other news media, has a mandate to inform the South African public across all it platforms on the issues of national importance in a manner that is of the highest ethical standards. Thus, the SABC therefore plays a vital role in facilitating the type of informed decision-making required for the electorate that relies on it for news, to cast their votes for their party of choice having been adequately presented with truthful and credible news about the different political parties.

To hold the media accountable to these high-level principles, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has analysed the media coverage of elections over the past 2.5 months. This research report is the second and final in a series of analyses that unpack the quality of media coverage undertaken by the public broadcaster in the 2019 elections period. For the last two previous general elections, the SABC has been notable in how it sought to isolate itself from the rest of the media in South Africa. While clearly it has the largest mandate and in many ways needs to differentiate itself from other media, SABC often ran elections content with little consultation or engagement with the broader industry. These elections and the SABC’s media coverage is notable for its clear shift to deepen its public service mandate but also to engage and work more cooperatively and closely with other media.

Significantly, we see highly politicised issues taking up much of the coverage in SABC’s 2019 elections coverage. These included party campaigns, internal party politics and national politics, dominant the coverage by receiving a share of voice made up almost one-third of all elections items in the three-month period. However, not all is doom and gloom. On a positive note, we do see a commendable shift in how service delivery and community protests were covered in during the election period and that these type of citizen issues are slowly making their way into the agenda. Nevertheless, there is still work to be done as we also see coverage, voice and focus given to women and to issues affecting women and girls, especially gender based violence, remains neglected to the periphery of the public agenda.

The previous reports examining all elections coverage from March – May 2019 are available on www.mediamonitoringafrica.org

For more information, please feel free to contact Sarah Findlay on (011) 788 1278 or on sarahf@mma.org.za

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