MMA takes a moment to look back at how the media have covered elections over the years

In early 2019, South Africans will begin preparing for our 6th democratic national elections. Given the current political climate, heightened tensions, socio-economic instability and the conversations around ‘State Capture’, the upcoming elections are said to be the most contested yet. Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) was established to monitor the media coverage of our first democratic elections in 1994, and has been monitoring the coverage of every national and local elections since. Next year will be no different.

With conversations already taking place around political campaigning, influence of social media, the role traditional media have to play – and with MMA celebrating its 25th birthday this year, we decided to look back at all the past national election reports that we have released. We took a comparative look at how the media cover elections, contributing to ensuring free and fair elections.

The report, released today, compares the monitoring results of our last four national elections (1999, 2004, 2009, 2014), and contributes to the broader organisation aim of encouraging quality, ethical and diverse media coverage. The research report focuses on five key themes, consistent with MMA’s monitoring methodology, including Topics (dominant and marginalised); Gender (of sources used when reporting); Political Party coverage (whose voice was the loudest) and lastly, Fairness.  

Although there have been many changes to news production and consumption over the years, (external and internal), as well as new challenges experienced by media and journalists, there seems to be little change in how the media cover an election period. We still see male voices dominate the media space, we still see heightened ‘celebrity politics’ instead of focusing on service delivery issues, and we still do not see a focused citizen’s agenda when reporting during an election period.

In the coming months leading to the 2019 national elections, MMA along with various partners and stakeholders, will be advocating for quality reporting, the safety of journalists and awareness of social media misinformation campaigns. Although faced with new challenges, a crisis of credibility and social media platforms, this is an opportunity for media to improve how elections are coverage, ensuring an engaged, citizen focused agenda.

Read the full report.

For questions, comments and more details contact:

Ntsako Manganyi Tel: +27 (0) 11 788 1278