SA Elections 2009 À“ Sourcing

Date: January 1, 1970
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These articles attempt to demonstrate public opinion about South Africa’s national election in 2009.

  • Articles analysed
  • “What prominent South Africans say,” The Star, 7 April 2009
  •  “What the citizens say,” Mail & Guardian, 9 to 15 August 2009
  •  “Media ‘neglecting plight of women,’” Business Day, 20 April 2009
  • “Youth to make impression,” The Citizen, 22 April 2009
  • “Sixty and single-minded,” Mail & Guardian, 24 to 29 August 2009
 These articles may be used to:
  • highlight the importance of balanced sourcing;
  • examine how to move away from subtle gender stereotypes;
  • discuss the inclusion of women in the news;
  • debate the affects of reporting’s gender inequity on society.
 Trainers’ notes:
This series of articles attempts to showcase public opinion in the run-up to and following South Africa’s 2009 presidential race however the bulk of the clippings highlight the gross gender inequality often found among reporters’ sources and how this contributes to women’s absence from news agendas.
Three of these articles (“What prominent South Africans say,” “Youth to make impression,” and “What the citizens say,”) are done in a style media houses refer to as Vox pops  – short for the latin phrase, Vox populi, or “voice of the people.” The method behind this feature is to interview as many people you can, asking each the same question. Ideally, should interview as many people as it takes to give readers a representative sample of the population – both in gender and race – in which each interviewee has something interesting to say. This may mean that reporters who are looking to fill a space with eight Vox pops will have to interview three times that to guarantee a representative sample.
Here, reporters clearly have not done that. The article featuring prominent South Africans bears one woman amongst seven men. While one could argue this bias represents the glass ceiling that still exists for women in politics and business, reporters should have found at least three other women leaders, ensuring gender parity in the article. This same gender imbalance appears in the article from The Citizen in which the ratio of women to men is 1:6. The lack of gender parity here highlights the fact that the woman is the only interviewee to say she did not register to vote. Again Vox pops are supposed to give readers an indication of the public’s sentiments; with no female counterpoint, this women could be taken as representative of voter apathy among female voters. (It should be noted that in fact 55% of voters were women) “What citizens say,” provides somewhat better coverage than The Citizen’s article, showcasing more and more articulate women but, again, still falls short of anything close to 50-50 gender parity.
One finds relief in the profile of Selina Bezuidenhout, an elderly woman whom the reporter follows on voting day. The article is gender aware with its focus on Bezuidenhout as the primary voice a counterbalance to the marginalisation of women’s voices from election coverage showcased above. Also, the writer presents Bezuidenhout as a person first and a gender second, avoiding the use of descriptions, such as “mother of three,” that pander to societal bias. However, the writer does indicate, through his choice of quotes, that Bezuidenhout far down in the article. Women do not have to negate their roles as mothers but they should not necessarily define them. For example, Bezuidenhout is allowed nine paragraphs to showcase her political literacy and convictions before being linked to motherhood. 
As pointed out by the Business Day, gender issues rarely come to the fore of mainstream media in the frenzy before an election. In South Africa’s 2009 election, gender topics comprise only .6 percent of all election coverage. In part this reflects candidates’ agenda, which tend to leave gender conspicuously out, but it also reflects absence of media as a platform for women’s expression. From the most prominent levels of society down to those most marginalised, women do not appear in a representative way in media – neither as subjects of stories nor sources. According to the International Federation of journalists, women account for 21 percent of people featured in news. In Africa, that percentage drops to 18 percent. The federation also noted that almost 30 percent of all reporting dealing with women globally was found in entertainment or sports reporting.
Discussion questions
  • What is the importance of sources? What do they tell us about a story and a reporter?
  • When we don’t strike a balance of sources – both in gender and perspective, what do we risk?
  • What, if anything about the way journalism is conducted today reinforces this gender inequality among sources? For instance, the increasing use of experts in journalism.
  • Does media have a role to play in democracy and vice versa? If so, and media is a rather undemocratic space marginalising roughly 50 percent of voters, how does this affect democratic governance?
 Training exercises:
  •  Write your own Vox pops feature, showcasing a more representative sample than those depicted in the articles. Are there any challenges in terms of getting the right sample and how did you solve them?
  • Pick a hot button issue in local media and monitor it over a period of time in several papers. Do you notice any trends in sourcing and how do they tie back to discussions of gender party/balanced sourcing?
  • Talk to editors at local papers and ask them how they approach gender and sources in the everyday functioning of the newsroom. Would articles like those showcased here have received an editor’s approval? Do editors actively discuss gender and sourcing with reporters? Are reporters trained how to identify and handle gender issues?
Other Training Resources
Click here and search theme "Elections" for more related GL Commentaries. 

Download : What the citizens say0001
Download : Youth to make big impression0001
Download : Sixty and single-minded0001

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