Media Monitoring Africa (MMA has concluded its investigation of biased reporting on the part of an SABC 2 Morning Live show broadcast on May 11 after concerns were raised by a member of the SOS Coalition (Support Public Broadcasting), and found that that particular broadcast did in fact favour the ruling ANC. It said the broadcast was “in the interests of the ANC, and not the voter”.
In its report, the MMA found that the broadcast of concern could be divided into three focus areas. These were:
· A Department of Housing Settlement Limpopo initiative called “Hostel Re-development Initiative”;
· The news bulletins, weather and sports, and;
· Another live crossing to the launch of a Food Garden project by the Free State MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development.
The MMA said in its report that all three of these segments were dominated by ANC party activities. “The opening set of news bulletins reveal that the ANC was given 68% (114 seconds) of total time given to news, whilst all the remaining parties were givenof 32% (53 seconds) of time. (As comparison in 2009 National Elections, MMA found the ANC, overall on SABC 2 received 40% of total political party coverage, which was in lien with most broadcast media.”
The report said “It can be concluded that an overall assessment of the programme, reveals bias, clearly favouring the ANC. This is due to the uncritical coverage, as well as the prominent and overwhelming airtime afforded to the ANC, to the virtual exclusion all other parties.”
But, said the MMA, “it must be emphasised that this is only one programme and not the overall figures”.
MediaMattersZA, an arm of Media Monitoring Africa, has launched Elections Watch-Bias Patrol, as a means of encouraging ordinary citizens to keep an eye on the fairness, balance and bias of the media’s coverage of the Local Elections 2011, through soliciting their input and concerns.
The organisation found that the live crossings from the Seshego Hostel Polokwane was introduced at the beginning of and coverage continued throughout, being “given much of the show’s overall airtime”. Interviews were conducted with the MEC responsible for local government housing in Limpopo, the Limpopo Premier, the Minister of Housing Settlements, as well as recipients of the houses.
“Morning Live show presenter Vuyo Mbuli also questioned the representatives about the government subsidised event, including whether or not the initiative was merely an electioneering ploy because of the timing of the event as well as the cost effectiveness of the project.”
“In emphasising that this was a ruling party government initiative it became clear that Morning Live was aware that this could have been seen as mere electioneering. While the event may be newsworthy, MMA questions why similar events taking place at different times of the year are not afforded the same extensive coverage,” the report said.
It added that it “may have been wise – given the concerns raised by Vuyo Mbuli” to to have had experts on housing policy, as well as other political parties commenting in order to ensure that the event was covered fairly. At the very least the presenter should have been asking critical questions about overall housing and linking it to the larger context of housing and settlement in South Africa. In failing to do so, and with no other political parties accessed, the item clearly favours the ANC”.
Coverage of the other two events, in the same broadcast, had similar results. “In excluding all other parties and expert analysis, as well as failure to ask critical questions or provide independent information about the scale of poverty and malnutrition in Jacobsdal, the (food garden) story again clearly favoured the ANC,” the investigators reported.
The report concluded that “critical to the media’s role during Elections, especially for the public broadcaster, is that it reports from a “citizen’s agenda”, which can be defined as coverage that is clearly reported from the interest of the voter and not political parties or politicians. This requires critical reportage of promises, manifestos and going beyond events based reporting.”