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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Shock plunge in SABC protest coverage; the significant down trend in SABC News reporting of protests that came before the censorship of protest visuals.


A careful analysis tracking SABC coverage the past three years shows how the SABC's coverage of public protests in South Africa has sharply plunged - although the number of actual protests has sharply increased.


The decline of protest coverage in South Africa by the SABC should be seen in the light of recent diktat by the SABC's highly controversial chief operating officer (COO) Hlaudi Motsoeneng that SABC TV news will censor visuals of public protests, with an immediate ban on showing destruction of property.

The decision has been met with near-universal condemnation from the public, media experts, academics, political parties, civil society groups, public broadcasting and civil rights pressure groups and has lead to a growing petition to the broadcasting regulator, "Stop SABC Censorship" that has already amassed thousands of signatures and keeps growing.

An analysis of SABC coverage data spanning from 1 January 2013 to May 2016 shows how the SABC and e.tv have been covering public protests in South Africa the past three years.

It reveals how protest coverage by the SABC fell from more than 1 400 reports in 2013 to just under 500 so far this year by the end of April.

Meanwhile the actual number of public protests in South Africa actually rose in 2014 and was more in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013. In the first four months of this year, public protests have shot up.


According to Municipal IQ the majority of public protests take place in informal settlements and under-developed areas where people are unhappy about service delivery by the government that remains a challenge in these areas.

Two conclusions from the Market Tenor research are firstly that the SABC is not covering protests in South Africa to the extent that they're actually happening. Secondly, a sharp decline in, and less coverage of protests didn't mean a decline in the number of actual protests happening or that the incidence of protests go down because of a lack of coverage shown on the SABC.

According to the careful data analysis of the SABC's public protest coverage by media monitoring company Media Tenor, SABC News coverage of protests started a downward trend for the three years before Hlaudi Motsoeneng's recent shock censorship announcement.

For years Media Tenor has consistently tracked the prime time news reporting on SABC1, SABC2 and SABC3 along with the evening news on e.tv, and according to Media Tenor the SABC's protest coverage dropped significantly.



"There is a clear trend that protest coverage on the SABC has been declining significantly on terms of the total number of reports," says Media Tenor researcher Jordan Griffiths.

"Although the SABC announced its planned decrease of protest coverage, research suggests that this has already been happening since 2013".

"We have also correlated our research with the total number of major protests that have been reported through Municipal IQ. What is clear is that the argument that media coverage on protests leads to more protests, is invalid," says Jordan Griffiths.

According to the research, e.tv demonstrates consistency in its news reporting compared to the SABC. When looking at e.tv's coverage on public protests to that of the SABC, e.tv can be seen as somewhat more consistent in the broadcaster's dedicated levels of coverage from 2014 onwards.

According to Media Tenor, coverage of protests by the SABC is not as dominant as those at the public broadcaster believe.

Out of the top 10 subjects covered by SABC News, reporting on public protests ranks number 9.