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SABC: A broadcaster in the public interest?

Media Monitoring Africa, a leading media research organisation in Africa, today launched the first interim report analysing the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)’s coverage of the 2019 National and Provincial Elections in South Africa. You can find the full report here.

Elections are a critical moment in any democracy as they are a time in which citizens can hold their leaders accountable by either choosing to keep them in office or by deciding that other individuals or parties should take the reins. Within this, the media shoulder the fundamental responsibility of providing the electorate with all the information that they need to make informed choices about political party candidates so that citizens know how they can and should use their vote.

In our local context, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) remains one of the most important sources of information for millions of people across the country. Control of the public broadcaster has therefore been seen as a crucial political tool to sway voters and to take over national leadership. This has had a clear detrimental impact on the quality of journalism at the public broadcaster. For example, in 2016 Local Government Elections, a myriad of toxic decisions saw the safety of journalists compromised and biased reporting proliferated on some SABC channels. While many important changes have taken place since then, we need to remain vigilant over the goings-on at the SABC.

This interim report aims to give a brief overview of the type of coverage presented by SABC services during the 2019 elections period thus far. This report clearly shows how much of the coverage maintains and perpetuates a political agenda. Despite this, there are clearly some critical and deliberate efforts being made to include a greater diversity of voices, specifically citizens, as well as attempting to better represent South African racial groups. These signify institution-shifting inroads in the quality of SABC coverage that is unlike any other previous coverage. Importantly, too, 98% of all items monitored were presented in a fair and balanced way. While some improvements are still needed, these interim results are highly encouraging for the SABC.

MMA will release a final report unpacking SABC coverage for the full elections period (March – May 2019) in early June 2019.

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

Read our previous elections reports here