The foreign media received a tongue-lashing recently for its coverage of ailing anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela’s stay in hospital. Is this fair? Media research company Media Tenor delved a bit deeper. TheMediaOnline reports.
Media Tenor this week published research entitled “Media legacy of an icon — A tribute to Nelson Mandela”, in which it suggests that the focus of coverage on his ailing health could threaten his legacy.
Researcher Stephano Radaelli said: “Should the media tone remain at such dire levels, this could potentially have an impact on Mandela’s popularity ratings in opinion polling in months to come.
“Understandably so, the media’s interest in the critical state of Mandela’s health is generating the negative tone but for a person who has been relatively quiet on the international front for so long, many might only be left with an image of suffering and ill-health of the legend.”
The media company analysed 1 213 reports in 31 global TV news reports across 12 countries.
The conclusion it reached is that Mandela’s image in the media has remained fairly low key and balanced over the last 10 years, except when he was admitted to hospital in December 2012. Normally, coverage about him spikes in July because it is his birthday month. But the coverage received now — since him being admitted to hospital more than 26 days ago — seems to be unprecedented.
“Against the background of an ailing Nelson Mandela, very few countries are trying to steer away from the somber tone by highlighting the legacy that he is likely to leave. However, his media tone becomes more negative, the more critical his health is getting,” said the report.
The good news for local media, however, is that the research found that South African media had kept his anti-apartheid legacy alive in their coverage, as did French media.
Media Tenor referred to a French news broadcast, Le Journal, as an example of good positive media coverage.
“Perhaps the international media needs to follow in the footsteps of Le Journal… where the former president’s past achievements and leadership qualities are taking precedence over his health.”
“Coverage on Nelson Mandela in the last three months held a positive tone across most South African television news broadcasts. In order to maintain positivity for the ailing former president, TV news broadcasts focused on positive personal life accomplishments and leadership qualities.”
US-based broadcaster CBS had the highest chunk of coverage on Mandela than other global television news broadcasters, most notably its reports on the defence ambulance that broke down while transporting the former statesman to hospital.
Mandela’s oldest daughter, Makaziwe, recently criticised specifically the foreign media in an interview with SABC.
“The fact that my dad is a global icon, one of the 25 influential people of the 21st century, does not mean that people cannot respect the privacy and dignity of my dad. I don’t want to say this, but I’m going to say it. There is sort of a racist element with many of the foreign media where they just cross boundaries,” she said.
She compared them to “vultures hovering over a carcass”.
The Daily Maverick also published a satirical piece criticising the conduct of the foreign media.
IMAGE: The Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory