Minister Gigaba, this is why you are wrong

2014-05-20 10:00

In a week where most of us were still on a high after the relatively successful general elections, Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba’s attack on the media after the ANC’s election victory was nothing if not a blind side.

Speaking of a battle many were unaware of fighting, he accused the media of campaigning against the ANC in the run-up to the elections.

He said this battle was part of a greater war where, yet again, the ANC emerged victorious.

But if we strip away the battle cry and look at the facts, how true are his accusations? Media Tenor’s analysis of the election coverage yields some very interesting results.

Yes, the ANC does receive proportionally more negative coverage than other political parties. So far this year, it received an average media tone of negative 13% compared with the DA’s negative 7%.

But this is because the party is a large contributor towards its own negative coverage. Of the total number of negative statements on the ANC between January and April, just under a quarter (23%) originated from the party.

If we look at journalist-driven ANC coverage in the same period, 72% was unopinionated, or purely factual, coverage. The data shows there is no inherent bias in the way in which the media report on the ANC.

Rather, there is a problem with the way in which it responds to the media.

For example, when the media report on alleged corruption, the ANC’s top communicators go into reactive mode.

It is this combative stance that keeps the stories burning long after they would have died a natural death.

Gigaba might argue that personalisation is the problem, that the media are negatively biased towards President Jacob Zuma.

If we look at how the media reported on Zuma compared with Helen Zille this year, there were some marked similarities as both battled protests and controversy. Zuma’s media image was consistently in the red with a rating of negative 16%, while Helen Zille received a rating of negative 8%.

No one was exempt in the robust reportage in the run-up to the elections. An analysis of the ANC’s issue focus this year shows that handling the Nkandla fallout was a priority, with the result that communication on its policy successes and strengths was largely neglected.

Instead, the party appears to have relied on its liberation credentials to speak on its behalf, and to its detriment. Media Tenor’s analysis indicates that of the nine provinces, the ANC struggled to convey a compelling and positive message in six of them.

The only provinces in which it communicated an upbeat policy message were Free State, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

As the election results show, fighting phantom battles distracts from critical communication objectives, a lesson the ANC would do well to heed.

Lotter is managing director of Media Tenor

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