Comparing journalistic cultures : constructing the identity of Fred van der Vyver as newsmaker

Le Roux, Judie (2009-03)

Thesis (MPhil (General Linguistics))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


This study examined how different words and phrases used within the media may portray a certain image of an individual, ultimately impacting the perception that the reader forms of such individual. Specifically, the manner in which Fred van der Vyver was portrayed by both an Afrikaans language newspaper and an English language newspaper in the Fred van der Vyver-Inge Lotz murder case was examined. This was a highly publicized case from March 2005, when Inge Lotz was found murdered, to November 2007, when Fred van der Vyver, who was suspected of killing Inge Lotz, was acquitted. The aim of the study was to compare two South African journalistic cultures, namely the ones represented by Cape Times and Die Burger, respectively, in their construction of Fred van der Vyver as newsmaker. The rationale for the study was that newspaper coverage of a murder as well as of the investigation and trial which follow creates a certain perception among its readers, and that this perception is based on the information that readers accumulate by reading various published articles. The hypothesis was that both newspapers treated Fred van der Vyver as a newsmaker, and as a murdered in particular, by making use of various linguistic devices. The data analyzed were a selection of articles published between March 2005 and November 2007 in the online versions of Cape Times and Die Burger. A focal point of the study was to show how different aspects of newspaper reporting – specifically headlines and the text itself – construct a particular view or image of the case in general and of Fred van der Vyver in particular. It was found that neither the Cape Times nor Die Burger wrote that Fred van der Vyver was the murderer but both suggested it throughout by making use of linguistic devices. Loaded words, for example, were used to describe certain aspects of the case, and these aspects were then associated with Fred van der Vyver. Fred van der Vyver`s identity had been presented as that of a murderer within the press by means of linguistic tools and language use. The hypotheses was therefore borne out by the data, as both newspapers had indeed portrayed the identity of Fred van der Vyver as that of a murderer. What we read in the papers does have an influence on what we perceive to be true, objective or accurate and on how we ultimately form an opinion. In this case, the public automatically accepted Fred van der Vyver’s identity as portrayed in the press, namely as that of a murderer, and assumed that he was guilty once he was arrested.

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