Media must pay more attention to minority parties

2009-07-02 00:00

A RECENT report published by Media Monitoring Africa on March 30 called “Is the media campaigning for the ANC and Cope?” reviewed the media coverage that was given to all political parties during the 2009 general elections.

Media Monitoring Africa reported that the African National Congress received an average of 41% of party coverage, while newcomers Congress of the People received 20%. The Inkatha Freedom Party, then the second largest opposition party in Parliament, received only six percent of the election media 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, although perhaps not for the reasons that may have been put forward. While it is reasonable to expect that the ruling party would receive more media attention during the election period, the level of coverage is still debateable.

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

Its report has direct relevance to a cartoon that was published in the Cape Times on June 10 portraying Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the IFP, as a defeated boxer. Lying in the corner of the ring, he is clearly portrayed as being down and out. The IFP may have received six percent of the media coverage during the 2009 election campaign, but I would argue that the gist of the coverage given to the IFP has been largely negative. The IFP has consistently been portrayed as a party on the skids.

The media have often placed Buthelezi in the same basket as Patrici­a de Lille of the Independent Democrats (ID) and Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement (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 almost wiped out, but I am yet to come across a cartoon portraying De Lille in a bad light. I often wonder how smaller opposition parties have been able to avoid the ridicule?

We all know that the media have a vital role to play in any democracy — especially during an election. 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. It is a matter that goes to the core of our democracy and impacts directly on how people are able to make up their minds freely as to who they wish to govern them.

We must look critically at not only the media coverage afforded to different political parties, but the content of the coverage itself.

Once again the pundits, prior to the April 22 poll, predicted that the IFP would be wiped off the electoral map. The hostility evident in most of the media commentaries are par for the course for the IFP. One newspaper even published a survey (which lacked credibility) that polled the IFP at 1,6% nationally and predicted that it would only garner seven percent of the votes in KwaZulu-Natal.

Yes, the truth is that the IFP did not receive the number of votes it was hoping for and we have no wish to hide our disappointment. But I do believe that it is a misrepresentation of the facts to represent the IFP constantly as a party with no hope or way forward.

During this election campaign, in which the ANC had a R200 million war chest at its disposal, the IFP was ignored at every turn. Last year, the National Council of the IFP met with the chairperson of the IEC and her board, exposing many incidents of intimidation and areas of concern which placed free and fair elections in jeopardy. While promising to revert to the IFP on these matters, the IEC failed to do so.

Yet despite all this, the IFP remains a major player. The IFP was certainly not eliminated and secured 4,5% of the vote with 860 000 votes.

I believe that, despite the IFP’s losses, it remains a formidable force. Hundreds and thousands of South Africa­ns have placed their trust in the IFP and it will represent their interests with dedication and vigour.

A new chapter has already opened for the IFP. It is regrouping, rebuilding and refocusing its efforts. Be in no doubt that the IFP will not cease in the campaign it has waged since 1975 to create a just, prosperous and moral South Africa.

So you will find the IFP next month, next year and far into the future campaigning, day in and day out for the interests of the poorest people in this country, and holding the ANC to account whenever it fails to deliver on their hopes and dreams.

All IFP members know that there is a daunting task ahead of them, but they are ready for the challenge. The U.S. politician George John Mitchell, once said: “No one should be guaranteed success but everyone should have a fair chance to succeed.”

The IFP is not asking anyone for any favours, it is just asking for a fair chance.

• Liezl van der Merwe is the IFP media officer based in Cape Town.

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