Biased Media Coverage Played a Role in IFP's Poor Performance at the Polls

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BYLINE: Liezl van der Merwe

A report published by Media Monitoring Africa in March called "Is the media campaigning for the ANC and Cope?" reviewed media coverage given to all political parties during the 2009 general elections.

Media Monitoring Africa reported that the ANC received an average of 41 percent of party coverage, while newcomer Cope, which prior to the 2009 poll had no representation in Parliament, received 20 percent. The IFP, then the second largest opposition party in Parliament, received only 6 percent of coverage.

The 2009 elections were characterised by a great deal of discussion about bias in the media, particularly by the SABC. In its summary, Media Monitoring Africa concluded that concerns around bias in coverage are valid, though perhaps not for the reasons that may have been put forward. While it is reasonable to expect that the ANC would receive more media attention during the election period, the level of coverage is still debatable.

What should receive attention therefore, Media Monitoring Africa said, is not only the level of coverage afforded to one political party in comparison to others, but the content of the coverage.

This report has direct relevance to a cartoon that was published in the Cape Times on June 10 portraying Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, as a defeated boxer. Lying in the corner of the ring he is clearly portrayed as being "out for the count". The IFP may have received 6 percent of the media coverage during the 2009 elections, but I would argue the gist of the coverage was argely negative. The IFP has consistently been portrayed as a party on the skids with no hope of ever recovering the political ground it has lost.

The media has often placed Buthelezi in the same basket as Patricia de Lille of the ID and Bantu Holomisa of the UDM, although both arguably enjoyed a fairer wind from the media. But the facts now speak for themselves: while the IFP has lost some support, the ID and the UDM have been practically wiped out (a situation from which no one should derive any pleasure).

Other smaller opposition parties, such as the ACDP and the FF+, also suffered severe losses but I am yet to come across a cartoon portraying their leaders in a negative light. I often wonder how these parties have been able to avoid the ridicule.

We all know that the media has |a vital role to play in any democracy - especially during elections. Bias in the media against a particular political party, or consistent negative coverage of a specific political party, is a matter that goes to the heart of how citizens vote.

I believe, like Media Monitoring Africa, that we must now look critically not only at the media coverage afforded to different political parties, but to the content of the coverage itself.

Prior to the April 22 poll, the pundits predicted that the IFP would be wiped off the electoral map. …