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?

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


  • Fred - 2012-05-23 08:15

    Very good, thought-provoking article. I am personally of the opinion that Malema has always generated far too much self-publicity without substance. He makes the most outrageous comments to get emotional support, without any thought to the results to the country or his followers. Not once in all his utterances have I heard of him putting any decent ideas forward about the youth of the country becoming productive, or anything at all about how best to get the youth employed. Rather he advocates a "give me" attitude without thought as to what it will cost the country in investment or jobs. At the same time he lines his pockets and promotes corruption at the expense of the poor. To me he is the worst kind of leader - full of self-importance, and with no feeling for those he is supposed to have been leading, and the problem in this country is that those are the types who generally get elected to high positions because they incite the people with the meaningless mumbo-jumbo that they want to hear. Malema markets malema, and malema only !!!!!

  • revaro.winkler - 2012-05-23 08:26

    its the media and sometimes its just to sell news thats all and the media is to blame dont make him news please great article

  • danny.levin.351 - 2012-05-23 09:07

    Indeed the media has given him too much attention. SO PLEASE, STOP WRITING ABOUT HIM (yes, I'm talking to you, the author of this article)

  • Jackie - 2012-05-23 09:27

    An you had to write about Malema to talk about Malema. But what I have noticed recently is that articles about Malema don't have much comments as they used, and I am not sure about the readership stats. I often open an article about Malema on news24 only to find out that there is nothing new, but the same contents under a different heading. My view is that when you guys at news24 don't have anything to publish for about 2hrs then you publish some old Malema news under a new Heading

  • Bergie - 2012-05-23 09:52

    I believe his power comes from his support base: the hungry neglected masses.

      Senior - 2012-05-25 16:36

      This is an extremely ill-informed comment/opinion to make indeed, although I respect your constitutionally-enshrined right to express it. I am highly educated and financially secured but I support Malema. This is in sharp contract to your suggestion/assertion that Malema's supporters are comprised of poor neglected young population. What a comment to make noneless!

  • Phillip - 2012-05-23 15:20

    news is boring without Malema Our President,nomore news this nowadays

  • sharyn.dabbs - 2012-05-23 15:26

    Sick to death of him. I love outrageous people but find his brand of racism irritating and annoying. I wish the media would ignor him, so he can go away.

  • Abram - 2012-05-23 15:32

    know new24 has nothing to write,

  • collen.masetla - 2012-05-24 00:28

    News not so good anymore, boredom at its worst. Malema is not a media product nor zuma's because both just realised him well after taking over ANCYL but the boy occupied many positions in leadership before zuma issue or more media coverage.\r\n\r\nNo denial, no ANC leader is best at articulating issues than him. He answers questions better than penis ANC president, eish sorry i mean to say anc president.

  • Andricca - 2012-05-24 14:16

    Malema is here to stay - watch the space, the League will continue to defy him, reject and vote him and his cronies out of office come December 2012. In the opposite, Malema is gaining more support and just wait and see how things unfold in the forthcoming ANCYL Special General Council

  • Andricca - 2012-05-24 14:18

    We love & miss him a lot, already we can feel the gap and defenseless without him - that flavor has been put on hold. We are witnessing the making of a man.

  • Senior - 2012-05-25 16:27

    It is highly misleading to have people like you, Chris, say that Malema is no longer a president of the ANC Youth League. In fact the ANC Youth League have been on record, saying that Malema remains their president. And indeed these are the people who have elected him in youth presidency.I can't believe that you've just called those Malema voters denialists for making it clear that the person they have elected remain their president. I think you are a denialist yourself for believing that Malema is no longer president of the ANCYL, when the ANCYL itself says he is and continues to be.

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