A typical political story in the Swazi media was a basic event description, reported by a male journalist, containing one male government source, and, if biased, favoured government. Coverage of government and political issues was largely superficial and uncritical and captured a limited range of views and voices.
The breadth of content in political coverage was limited. Important political issues such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and democracy were marginalized because political reporting was reactive, that is, it was largely determined by what government said or did. Most political stories were simple descriptions of government statements or activities. Thus rather than questioning the government’s agenda and trying to reshape it, the media’s political coverage generally reinforced the government’s agenda. The media across the board displayed a chronic lack of information and analysis.
The focus on describing events rather than examining issues was a key reason for this lack of information, as well as the over-reliance on single-sourced stories and the failure to research, ask the pertinent questions and contextualise
the story. Almost every instance of biased political reporting, regardless of the medium, favoured government. Single sourcing also proved to be the root cause of much of the unbalanced political reporting. The tendency to base stories on one government source increased the risk of biased reporting that favoured government.
Gender balance was sorely lacking in political coverage. Women’s voices were almost non-existent. Political stories were almost exclusively based on the voices and opinions of men.
The dominance of government voices also severely limited the diversity of views expressed in political reporting. Again, the habit of single-sourcing meant there was little effort to seek out the voices of ordinary citizens, expert analysts and those who might oppose the government view.
The media’s tendency to focus on government voices only was the key contributing factor to the amount of unethical reporting. Telling only the government view sometimes resulted in very subjective reporting where the media simply acted as a mouthpiece for government.
Comparing political coverage across the different media revealed that the best political reporting was found in the Times publications. Notably, the Times reporting had the least ethical violations and the least bias. And yet the Times is Master’s Voice 47 did fall short in many areas. Most obviously the Times did not sufficiently contextualise political stories, often failed to provide diverse voices and lacked depth of information and analysis.
Classic features of state media reporting were clearly evident in the political coverage of SBIS and Swazi TV. Most stories were very simplistic descriptions of government projects and policies, concentrating on the positive aspects with no critique or opposing comment. The Observer, too, had a tendency to focus on government views, avoid scrutiny and criticism of government and gave scant coverage of politically sensitive stories.
With such a chronic lack of diversity and context across all political coverage, the media failed to foster meaningful political debate and promote critical thinking about government and political issues.
By Mary-Ellen Rogers, for MISA-Swaziland and the Media Monitoring Project, funded by OSISA