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Fair, but dig deeper next time: Media rated on 2021 local elections coverage

DA and ActionSA ‘over-represented’ in reports but it wasn’t glowing coverage

Action SA received media coverage for its ballot paper saga while the DA was featured for its Phoenix poster row. The ANC was under-represented in media coverage because while it led the field with 45.6% of votes, it garnered only 41% of total media coverage. File photo.
Action SA received media coverage for its ballot paper saga while the DA was featured for its Phoenix poster row. The ANC was under-represented in media coverage because while it led the field with 45.6% of votes, it garnered only 41% of total media coverage. File photo.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

SA media, including the state broadcaster, have received a thumbs up for their overall coverage of the 2021 local government elections.  

Research conducted by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and presented to parliament’s portfolio committee of communications on Tuesday rated the coverage at 96%.

“Our analysis showed SA media was 96% fair in its coverage of the 2021 local government elections. This should be celebrated, especially as it marks a distinct improvement from the election in 2016 where we detected 12% bias,” said MMA director William Bird.

MMA monitored 29 print, online and broadcast outlets over two months from September 13 to November 13 2021. The monitoring process was extended by almost two weeks after voting day to include coverage of all results as they were compiled and announced.   

Media Monitoring Africa attributed under-reporting to the shrinking of newsrooms and hostile economic climate

Of concern, MMA said at the time, was that only 17% of media coverage was election-related and only 7% related to service delivery. It attributed the under-reporting to the shrinking of newsrooms and hostile economic climate.

In terms of media coverage for political parties, they found that of the 325 parties which contested, a small selection of prominent parties including the ANC, DA, EFF, ActionSA, IFP, GOOD, FF+, NFP, PA and ATM had a combined coverage share of 97%, leaving only 3% among the other 315 political parties.   

Based on their individual coverage, the ANC was under-represented at 41% while ActionSA at 8% was the most over-represented party, said the MMA’s Lister Namumba.

“Although the ANC led the field with 45.60% of votes, it garnered only 41% of total media coverage. This suggests the party was actually under-represented, even though it received the largest slice of all media coverage.

“Then we had the DA over-represented and the most over-represented political party following this criteria is ActionSA. They have a discrepancy of 5% between the votes they received and media coverage received,” Namumba said.

However, in coverage by the SABC, the DA was not over-represented, unlike in the news media. ActionSA was over-represented when the votes it received were compared to the coverage received.

ActionSA, which contested elections for the first time, was mostly covered for its battles with the Electoral Commission (IEC).  The party accused the IEC of “sabotage” after ballot papers for Tshwane and Johannesburg were presented without the party name and only with the logo and candidate’s name. This issue ended up in the Electoral Court.  

ActionSA was mostly covered for its battles with the Electoral Commission

The DA — the official opposition — received 24% media coverage, the second highest of all parties. However, it garnered only 21.66% of the vote.  

MMA’s analysis showed the DA received the most coverage as a result of its posters erected in Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal, which some people called racially insensitive. The posters read, “The ANC called you racists. The DA calls you heroes”.  The posters referred to violence in the area during the rioting and looting in July last year.

The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) received slightly less than its proportionate share of media coverage at 2% compared to 2.3% of votes.

Answering the question, “Did SA media sufficiently fulfil its mandate to inform and educate the electorate?”, the MMA said “yes”, but there was room for improvement.

“In terms of fairness and balance, it certainly did. This is reason enough to celebrate, especially in light of the challenging circumstances facing journalists in 2021: political unrest earlier in the year, the Covid-19 pandemic and the shrinking of newsroom resources.

“However, as this study shows, media outlets fell short when it came to equipping citizens to make informed choices on polling day. Moreover, most media failed to go beyond lip service when seeking the voices and perspectives of marginalised groups.”

TimesLIVE


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