Election press coverage for Thursday 16 April 2009 showed a significant increase, particularly when compared to the previous week, though this was more noticeable in some newspapers than others.  After looking at the day’s top stories, the report looks at two editorials and asks what could the media have done/ still do? The one editorial in The Times notes that the election has been all about Jacob Zuma. However, since other parties have been so poorly covered in the media, there has been pressure on parties to respond to high profile events to gain media attention, notably the Zuma corruption trial.  The second editorial is from The Citizen about the secrecy of the vote.

Top election stories for the day:
1. South African voters abroad get a chance to vote, much of the coverage revolving around the voting at South Africa House in London:
• Business Day, p. 1, 4;
• Sowetan, p. 4; and,
• The Citizen, p. 3;
• The Star, p. 1 (two stories), 12 (editorial); and
• The Times, p. 1, 5.

2. Julius Malema’s rally at University of Cape Town, where Malema said ANC would provide free tertiary education after being heckled by DA supporters.
• Business Day, p. 3;
• Sowetan, p. 4, 12 (editorial);
• The Star, p. 7; and,
• The Times, p. 4.

The Times editorial (p. 18) was about the cult of Zuma, which discussed how the hype around Zuma has stifled debate.  While there may be some validity to this, it is important to consider the role that the media have played in not promoting debate and allowing the election coverage to be so dominated by the “cult of Zuma.”  MMA has observed on various occasions in its analysis of the elections that media need to be more critical of politician’s statements, and adopt a citizen’s agenda rather than just repeating what politicians say and letting their pages or screen time become a platform for campaigning.  It also seems that for the smaller opposition parties, in order to get media coverage, they are forced to engage around ANC figureheads or initiate legal action.  While this may be necessary in news agenda terms, in an election period media have a clear responsibility to inform people about all the various political parties so that voters can make an informed choice on the 22nd.

Another editorial that raises a valid point while ignoring media’s role, was written in The Citizen (p. 12), which focused on how in the papers view, the IEC had not ensured that everyone knows that their vote is secret.  This is related to a news article in which the IEC emphasised that every person’s vote is secret.  While it may be true that there has been insufficient voter education on this and other voter education issues, media in the run-up to the elections could have devoted greater time and space to ensuring that voters are well informed not only on the issues at stake but also the essential voting processes.  Media could have filled this gap, and it is not too late for media still to explain how the voting process works to potential voters.

For more information please contact Sandra Roberts on 084 9000 344 or 011 788 1278 or William Bird on 082 887 1370.
The Daily Reports are made possible by the Open Society Foundation. And the Free Voice Foundation

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) has monitored every democratic election in South Africa. This year we are doing the same, providing daily and weekly reports on media coverage of election news, as well as MMA’s Election Media Ratings

The following media are reviewed in the compilation of this report: Business Day, Daily Sun, etv primetime news; SABC 3 primetime news; Sowetan, The Citizen, and The Star and The Times.