Communications minister Dina Pule has accused the Sunday Times of conducting a “smear campaign” against her. In an unprecedented attack on the newspaper’s journalists, Pule said they were being run by “handlers” out to get her over the question of a tender for set top boxes (which has not been issued yet).
Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt responded in no uncertain terms. “The numerous articles this newspaper has written about Pule in the last year have been in the public interest, with no other motivation in mind. If the minister has any evidence to the contrary, we invite her to give this to the newspaper so we can deal with it appropriately,” she wrote.
“When it comes to the allegations against Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, the minister accuses him of being involved in dealing in cheap Chinese cellphones. He has no such business interests. Secondly, she claims Wa Afrika had set up a meeting on 19 June 2012. The truth is that her alleged boyfriend Phosane Mngqibisa had initiated the meeting with the Sunday Times to discuss the stories we were writing about Pule.
“Mngqibisa had, in fact, asked the businessmen whom the minister describes as ‘handlers’ to attend. If the minister has evidence that these businessmen were somehow attempting to influence the Sunday Times, please can she name them and their interests in an open forum. Wa Afrika did not offer to suppress any further stories in exchange for information. Such an offer would be absolutely unethical.”
Oppelt then refers to the heart of the ongoing story: the minister’s relationship with Mngqibisa. “Minister Pule continues to avoid clarifying the key issue – the nature of her relationship with Mngqibisa, who was then paid R6-million by the organisers of the ICT Indaba. She has threatened to both sue and report the newspaper to the Press Ombudsman. Even though our stories have been published for the past 10 months, she has done neither. When Mngqibisa reported the Sunday Times to the Ombudsman last year, his complaint was dismissed. The Ombudsman said that “in light of their silence about the nature of their relationship, the newspaper cannot be blamed for thinking that the facts pointed to a personal one.”
Media Tenor, a company focused on media analysis, decided to check Pule’s claims that the newspaper was running a smear campaign against her, using its analytic tools. This is what they discovered.
Q: Does your data point to a deliberate ‘vendetta’ by the Sunday Times against Minister Pule?
A: The motivation for reporting cannot be detected by media analysis, but what we can say is that The Sunday Times is not particularly negative towards Minister Pule when compared to other Ministers. Over the last six months, Minister Joemat- Petterson and Minister Radebe received considerably more negatively-focused coverage than Pule by the Sunday Times. The Sunday Times has been proportionally more critical towards Pule than other publications. Vendetta – no; particularly negative – yes.
Q: What about volume of coverage?
A: While The Sunday Times did have the greatest focus of coverage by volume, Mail & Guardian and Sunday Independent were not far behind. The tonality of coverage towards Pule by those three publications was more or less the same, which disproves the notion of a single-media ‘attack’. Criticism was largely found in weekly publications, not daily – indicative of the investigative nature of the topic, rather than being a regular news item.
Q: Is Dina Pule particularly targeted by the media?
A: There are no such indications. Tonality in the media towards Ministers in general is more negative than positive. Up to November 2012, the media tonality towards Pule was similar to that of other Ministers. Thereafter, the rating declined in all media, with the Sunday Times actually being less negative than other media. March however saw a sharp decrease in tonality by the Sunday Times.
Q: Do the media have anything positive to say about Ministers?
A: Former Minister Dlamini-Zuma and Minister Pandor are the ‘darling ministers’ according to the media. Motsoaledi, Manuel and Gordhan also remain favorites. Ministers Joemat-Petterson, Motshegka, Sisulu, Mthethwa and Mashabane receive the greatest criticism in the media.
Q: What is the coverage about?
A: Sadly, little about policy and their work or areas of responsibility, but instead more on infighting, court cases, corruption or maladministration. Ministers, in the media, are not linked to governmental work, but to the perceived lack of delivery.
Is the Sunday Times more negative than other newspapers?
SA political media: Coverage and tonality on SA Ministers, October 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
A comparative analysis of coverage on the most visible Ministers reveals communications minister Dina Pule has attracted particularly negative coverage in the Sunday Times. The paper’s stance in this regard has also been more critical when compared to all other media reporting on ministers. (See above.)
The Sunday Times is not the only critic of the minister.
SA political media: Coverage and tonality on Minister Dina Pule, October 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
Of the weekly media reporting on the Minister Pule since 2012, The Sunday Times has generated 24% more coverage or 50 more units of information than reporting by the Mail & Guardian. Tonality of reporting on the Minister has however been similar by most media. (See above.)
SA political media: Coverage and tonality on Minister Dina Pule, January 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
Most opinionated Sunday Times coverage limited to second half of 2012.
SA political media: Coverage and tonality of Ministers, October 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
Allegations of ‘irregular expenditure’ against Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Petterson saw her emerge with the most negative ministerial profile. The legacy of former Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Zuma meanwhile contributed to the Minister having the most positive profile.
SA political media: Coverage on issues associated with Ministers in the Sunday Times, October 1, 2012 – March 31, 2013
The relationship of politicians came in for close scrutiny in the last six months and was linked to corruption and fraud. Visible, policy-related issues featured in the bottom half of coverage when compared to other issues though.
IMAGE: Sunday Times editor, Phylicia Oppelt
Media Tenor is the leading media institute in the field of applied Agenda Setting Research, serving partners in the corporate, government and scientific world with strategic media intelligence.
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.