MMA: What you need to know about the 2019 election coverage

With South Africa's 2019 general elections behind us, the time has come to reflect on how well the media fared in their coverage of the voting processes. In a report titled "So Much Choice, But Not Enough Voice?" Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) analyses this year's election coverage by using data to track election-related stories from 61 media houses. The overall picture, according to the report, is a positive one.

The report focused on issues such as bias, which can present in a number of ways. According to MMA, analysis and opinions covered should be as diverse as possible.

In the case of elections, biased coverage can take different forms. It can take the form of highly exaggerated language against a party or the exclusion of voices from other political parties. According to MMA the overall coverage of the elections was fair - with only 1.6% of the stories showing bias.

Another form of bias is in the way parties are portrayed - through images, choice of sources or the language used in the stories.

The ruling African National Congress received the most coverage throughout the election season. The other major parties had to jostle for coverage, sometimes displacing each other along the way.

Gender representation

This coverage was disproportionate. While women make up the majority of the electorate, they appeared on very few of the stories as sources and the female voice is still sorely underrepresented.

Dominant topics

Election coverage was dominated by internal party politics - with focus on factions, break-away parties, the campaign trails and whether the country would pull off a free and fair election.

This focused coverage came at a cost, displacing discourse about critical socio-economic issues. Poverty, HIV/Aids, affirmative action, violence, and other socio-economic issues received less than 0.2% of media coverage during the election season.

So who covered the South African general election the best?

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) fared well and received a lot of positive feedback about its election coverage, despite recent controversies at the public broadcaster about political interference in its newsrooms.

The SABC's Democracy Gauge has been commended for reaching out to ordinary people and including the voter's voice, at at time when the broadcaster faced many governance and resource challenges.

For the full report by Media Monitoring Africa, click here.

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