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Citizen’s Agenda Flushed Away: Uncovering Media on Municipal Elections

10 October 2012

The 2011 Municipal elections were dominated by coverage surrounding a crucial issue of service delivery, in particular, provision of sewerage and sanitation. Unfortunately the discussions were dominated not by the citizens affected and policy issues of parties involved but rather the politicians. This report seeks to explore various aspects of media coverage from fairness, party and topic coverage to who spoke and where stories originated. In doing so it provides a wealth of information as to not only how elections were covered but how we can build on strengths and address weaknesses. The role of the media in an election period is too important to not be continually analysed with a view to ensuring citizens are able to make informed choices. The report should stimulate debate, discussion and encourage change, if it does we will have done our previous reports justice and, hopefully, made a contribution to the deepening of democracy.

The research found that:

• Most coverage was given to bigger political parties, meaning that the electorate did not get to hear about other smaller parties and independent candidates and what they promised;

• The coverage was limited to bigger metropolitan areas, which means that the rural and peri-urban areas did not receive as much relevant information;

• ‘Bread-and-butter’ issues received less coverage while political party campaigns took centre stage;

• The minority of election stories focused on local concerns despite these being local elections;

• Overall elections coverage was 18 percent of all news over the period despite the fact that free and fair elections are the pinnacle of our democracy;

• Despite having the space and perhaps the time to provide detailed and nuanced information about elections, some media performed below average in terms of depth of information;

• Politicians set the agenda for the elections thereby offering citizens only information they wanted to disseminate;

• Gender issues and women’s voices were limited. This means that issues affecting more than half the country’s population were neglected;

• White people were overrepresented as sources of information about elections to the detriment of other races; and,

• Children’s issues and voices were virtually non-existent in the coverage, despite the fact that children constitute approximately 40 percent of the country’s population.

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