Media study concerned by high use of anonymous sources

2010-10-19 09:10

Nearly 20% of 30 000 news articles published in southern Africa over 14 days last year were based on anonymous sources, according to a report released today.

“Across the region, stories based on anonymous sources accounted for 18% of the total. This is relatively high and raises concerns about the quality of journalism generally,” according to the Gender and Media Progress Study conducted by Gender Links.

Malawi had the highest number of stories based on anonymous sources (51%), followed by Madagascar (33%) and Mauritius (31%).

South Africa had 12% of its stories based on anonymous sources.

Botswana scored the lowest in the region (3%).

The study analysed 33 431 news articles published in 83 newspapers, and broadcast on radio and television prime time news bulletins and news analysis programmes between October 19 to November 16 2009 in southern Africa.

Almost 31% of the stories were based on secondary sources instead of primary sources.

“This is high, and is a source of concern,” said the report.

A primary source is one in which a subject is interviewed, whereas a secondary source is a report.

“There were, however, wide variations across countries, from 92% primary sources in Zimbabwe (the best), to only 25% in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Madagascar (57%) and DRC (75%) were the only two countries in the study in which stories based on secondary sources exceeded those based on primary sources.”

In South Africa, 78% of stories were based on primary sources and 22% on secondary sources.

The report points out another “weak media practice that often has gender dimensions” – the use of single versus multiple sources.

“It is common in news reporting to only hear the views of the person in authority, for example, the minister. In our male-dominated society, if only one source is consulted, there is a strong likelihood that this will be a man.

“This not only results in male hegemony of the news, it weakens journalistic practice,” the report reads.

In South Africa, 62% of reports analysed were based on single sources, slightly below the regional average of 67%.

“Only Malawi and Botswana had roughly equal numbers of single- and multiple-source stories.”

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