Media Monitoring Africa 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[1], as well as MMA’s Election Media Ratings[2].

For the weekend 28 February and 1 March, the coverage of the elections was extensive. Cope and ANC garnered most of the coverage, Zille and Malema much of the comment, while Freedom Front Plus and Inkatha Freedom Party were given minor coverage. It is concerning that there is so little coverage of the various other political parties.
MMA selected two issues for comment from a human rights perspective. These were young voters and Barney Pityana seeking a restraining order against the ANC.
It was reported that a coalition of student organisations, all of whom are affiliated with the ANC and their alliance partners, have said that Barney Pityana, vice-chancellor of University of South Africa (UNISA), is only allowing Cope to campaign on UNISA campuses, while allegedly neglecting his university duties. These allegations were denied by a UNISA spokesperson (Saturday Star, p. 2).

The allegations appear to lend credence to Pityana’s claims that ANC aligned organisations were trying to unseat him from his position at UNISA because of his ties with Cope (The Sunday Independent, p. 1, 5).  The focus of the story in the Sunday Independent is on a potential move by Barney Pityana to obtain a restraining order against the ANC to prevent it from trying to unseat him from his position as vice chancellor of UNISA.  The story is in-depth and includes a follow-up on page 5.  However, it is concerning that for such serious allegations, the ANC have only a very brief comment attributed to them in response and no comment from the unions, including Nehawu, is given in response.  It must be assumed that the Sunday Independent has done all it can be reasonably expected to do, to ensure the accuracy and validity of all its stories and sources.  Given the importance and severity of the allegations, it is essential that all sides are afforded fair opportunity to respond to them.  Clearly if the allegations being put forward are valid, it raises significant questions around academic and freedom of speech.

Young voters were the focus of stories covered by the Sunday Times and City Press.  The story in the Sunday Times suggested that young voters would vote in droves during these elections (p. 4) and suggested that politicians needed to find new ways to attract them (p. 11).  City Press (p. 27) offered a different approach and noted the loss of student activism on campuses, based on apathy on the part of students and in-fighting on the part of student political party leaders.

As voter turnout dropped from 89.3% in 1999 to 76.73% in 2004, it is in all of our interests and that of democracy, that voter turnout rises in the 2009 elections to ensure a more truly representative government at the very least.  The media have, to varying degrees, acknowledged their responsibility to encourage all people to vote, especially young voters.  While civil society must play its role, citizens also need to pressure all political parties to provide clear, well-argued, relevant and inspirational reasons that motivate young people into voting.

Young people are going to be greatly affected by a lack of job opportunities, HIV/AIDS and education challenges, which are all issues of great importance to the country.  A party that can make it clear that these issues are of importance to their party and articulates how their manifesto addresses these issues may encourage more young people to vote and win a large number of voters.  Media coverage should also ensure that it provides significant focus on young people to address their concerns.


For more information please contact Sandra Roberts on 084 9000 344 or 011 788 1278 or William Bird on 082 887 1370.
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1. The following media are reviewed in the compilation of this report: City Press, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Independent, Sunday Sun, Sunday Times, Sunday World, and Weekender.
2. Please note our full-scale elections monitoring is still in process.  Let us know if you would like your media to be included in the analysis.