Chris Moerdyk

Does Malema or the media maketh Malema?

2012-05-23 07:28

Chris Moerdyk

I read with interest this week that Julius Malema is continuing to lose support from South Africa's youth. And of course, he is no longer a member of the ANC nor president of the party's youth league even though there are those who are in a state of denial about his position.

Now, given that he is just an ordinary citizen, one has to ask whether he is, in fact, still news.

I asked this question of the media and marketing community when Malema was still under suspension pending a decision from the ANC's top brass and the answer that came back, I think quite rightly, was that he was still news on the same sort of basis that one is innocent until proven guilty.

But now, it’s a bit of a different story. And I would really like to ask you whether you believe right now that Malema is still making news because he has become some sort of political celebrity capable of saying outrageous things about the ANC in particular, or is the media continuing to give him a platform that he doesn't really deserve.

When he held a press conference a week or so ago,  it was packed to the rafters and in  spite of some journalists tweeting that Malema effectively said nothing new, they seem to keep going back for more.

Television footage of Malema in public these days shows someone who is behaving far above his station in life. This is no youth league president; this is someone who is behaving and being portrayed by the media, as someone who is running the country. Or, at least someone who might well be running it shortly. Is that really possible?

Chicken and egg situation

He remains surrounded by bodyguards and a clamouring media, he is South Africa's very centre of attraction.

And the more outspoken he becomes, the more outrageous he becomes, the more sensational his speeches ,the more media publicity he gets.  So much so, that one has to wonder whether he is a diabolically clever in the art of self-promotion or whether, in fact, he is actually news of such import that it fully deserves such tsunami coverage.

Is he worth all this attention or is he just fortunate to be living in a celebrity-obsessed society, where anybody who is prepared to be outspoken, high profile and sensationalist will attract the media like flies?

Is it a chicken and egg situation - does the media make Malema what he is today or does Malema make the kind of news South Africa wants to hear?

There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that South Africa's mass media is desperately trying to sustain dwindling readerships, viewerships and listenerships. And while editors might argue that their choice of news is in no way related to the need to draw additional readers, viewers and listeners, this of course, is always the object of the exercise. It’s what editors and programme managers have to do. Or die.

Making a mountain out of a molehill?

It’s also extremely difficult to rely on media research to determine whether the average consumer is as interested as the media appears to be regarding the antics of Julius Malema.

But, maybe a clue lies in the fact that the top rated TV shows right now are not news or political documentaries but rather soapies and reality shows.

I am not sure that we will ever know what would happen if the media simply stopped giving someone like Malema so much over the top coverage. And what would happen if they just didn't pitch up for his press conferences.

But, one thing is for sure, right now the media is doing more for Malema than he could have imagined in his wildest dreams. One has to ask whether our media are just being a diligent messengers or making a mountain out of a molehill? 

Frankly, I don’t know. I am a news junkie and I think South Africa is one of the most interesting places on earth to be right now. So, I am biased - I don't want to see Julius Malema disappear.

I admire the guy. He is a brilliant marketer - the best the ANC has produced in years. He understands like no-one else the power of perception and that good old fundamental of markleting; "it’s not what I want to say, it’s what the consumer wants to hear." 
He is brilliant at that.

What do you reckon? Are you watching TV news or listening to the radio or reading the newspaper to see what Melema is up to? Or, are you sick of him?

- Follow Chris on Twitter.

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