International media, particularly European and US, are displaying a positive sentiment towards the Congress of the People (COPE), while negative commentary characterises coverage of the ANC.
This is likely the result of a response to the fact that a monopolistic organisation is receiving serious competition.
Therefore, the support of the international media fraternity is not so much a pro-COPE position. Rather, it is anti-ANC.
In South African media, the ANC received five times more coverage in October 2008 than COPE (25,000 statements versus 5,000), but in November the focus on the ANC decreased to 17,000 statements, with COPE getting close to 12,000 references. In December, due to a decrease in overall news coverage, ANC and COPE enjoyed almost equal volumes of coverage.
In October, COPE had a 5 percent positive rating (5 percent more positive than negative comments), which rose to 20 percent in December. The ANC conversely received a 30 percent negative rating in November, but managed to “recover” to a negative 12 percent.
Media, however, are still divided over the leadership qualities of the various representatives. COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota generated a considerable amount of negative publicity (4 percent negative rating in December), although largely due to ANC sources quoted in the media. The former Gauteng premier, Mbhazima Shilowa, received considerably less negative coverage (+8 percent).
The rating of ANC president Jacob Zuma was ambivalent (-1 percent), with similar shares of approval and disapproval.
Up to 80 percent of all coverage (depending on the medium) focused on personalities, leadership and political infighting. Granted, election manifestos were only unveiled in January, but this should not be an excuse to sideline issues for the sake of sensational personality journalism.
ANC vs. COPE
• The ANC has received more coverage than COPE, but the margin by which it leads coverage has decreased.
• Coverage of COPE is more positive than coverage of the ANC.
• Coverage of COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota has been more negative than that of co-founder, Mbhazima Shilowa. Coverage of the ANC’s Jacob Zuma shows equal shares of approval and disapproval.
Wadim Schreiner is the managing director of Media Tenor South Africa.
- This column first appeared in The Media magazine (March 2009).
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