The South African press as watchdog or lapdog : a content analysis of press coverage of a health policy May 1997-February 1998

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Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH SUMMARY: The debate around the role of a critical media in South Africa has emerged from growing government criticism of media coverage. The general perception appears to be that the need for a vigilant press has lapsed since the election of a democratic government. In 1994, Thabo Mbeki stated that "as the liberation leaders are now in government, there is no need for a watchdog press". This exploratory study aims to assess the nature of newspaper coverage of the government. This assessment is limited to coverage by the Cape Times, Die Burger and Sowetan of Dr Zuma's Medical, Dental and Supplementary Health Service Professions Bill. The May 1997 to January 1998 time frame of the study corresponds with the health policy's development from a clause in the White paper to its promulgation as an Act. Besides assessing the nature of newspaper coverage, i.e. whether coverage is positive, negative, neutral or balanced, two main propositions are suggested. The first proposition is that the ideological stance of a newspaper may influence newspaper coverage of government policy. The second proposition suggests that media ownership will influence newspaper coverage of government policy. The quiet revolution of media ownership is expected to stimulate ideological shifts that may affect the nature of newspaper coverage. As the focus of the study falls on the content of printed media, namely newspapers, content analysis constitutes the research design. Both the manifest and latent contents of the newspaper articles are analyzed and the results are interpreted in relation to the three propositions. The findings suggest that while newspaper coverage of the health policy is generally critical, it is not overly critical. Positive, neutral and balanced articles equalize negative coverage. Newspaper coverage serves as an important indicator of the role that the newspaper is assuming in relation to the government. Although the results of this analysis are limited to coverage of one aspect of government policy by the Cape Times, Die Burger and \ Sowetan, one may extrapolate about the theoretical approach being adopted. Coverage of the three newspapers indicate a combination of the libertarian and development approaches to media/society relations. The developmental media approach is not being espoused by any of the three newspapers. It appears as if the sampled newspapers are fulfilling their watchdog roles by reporting critically on government policies. These results bode well for the press' role in the consolidation of South Africa's democracy.
AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die woordestryd rondom die rol van 'n kritiese media in Suid Afrika is uit 'n groeiende regerings kritiek op nuusdekking afkomstig. Dit wil voorkom asof die regering meen dat die behoefte vir 'n noulettende pers verval het na die verkiesing van 'n demokratiese regering. In 1994, het Thabo Mbeki byvoorbeeld te kenne gegee dat "aangesien bevrydings leiers nou aan bewind is die bestaan van nuuswaghonde nie meer nodig is nie". Die doelwit van hierdie navorsing is om te bepaal hoe nuusdekking die regering raak. Die dekking is beperk tot die van die Cape Times, Die Burger en Sowetan oor Dr. Zuma se Mediese, Tandheelkundige en Aanvullende Professionele Wetsonderwerp. Die tydperk Mei 1997 tot Januarie 1998 dek die gesondheidsbeleid se ontwikkeling van 'n Witskrif tot die uitvaardiging as 'n wet. Behalwe om die aard van nuusdekking te bepaal, bv. of dekking positief, negatief, neutraal of gebalanseerd is, is twee ander proposisies ondersoek. Die eerste proposisie is die verband tussen die ideologieseposisie van 'n nuusblad se nuusdekking en die invloed daarvan op regeringsbeleid. Die tweede proposisie handel oor eienaarskap van koerante en die nuusdekking van regeringsbeleid. Die fokus van hierdie navorsing val op die inhoud van nuusblaaie en inhoudsanaliese dien as die navorsingsontwerp. Die klaarblyklike sowel as die latente inhoud van die artikels word ontleed en die resultate word volgens die proposisies vertolk. Die bevinding is dat alhoewel nuusdekking van die gesondheidsbeleid in die algemeen krities is, is dit nie oorweldigend krities nie. Positiewe, neutrale en gebalanseerde artikels balanseer negatiewe dekking. Nuusdekking speel 'n belangrike rol in die verhouding tussen nuusblaaie en die regering. Alhoewel die resultate van hierdie ontleding beperk is tot die dekking van 'n aspek van regeringsbeleid deur die Cape Times, Die Burger en Sowetan, kan 'n ekstrapolering van die toepaslike teoretiese benadering moontlik gemaak word. Dekking van die drie nuusblaaie dui In kombinasie van die Liberale en Ontwikkelings (Development) benaderings tot media-gemeenskap verhoudings aan. Die Ontwikkelingende (Developmental) persbenadering word nie deur die drie nuusblaaie voorgestaan rue. Dit wil voorkom asof die nuusblaaie hul rol as waghond vervul deur kritiese verslag te doen oor regeringsbeleid. Die resultate is bevorderlik vir die rol wat die media speel in die bevestiging van demokrasie in Suid Afrika.
Study report (M. Phil.) -- University of Stellenbosch, 1998.
Press -- South Africa, Medical policy -- South Africa, Government and the press -- South Africa, Journalism -- South Africa -- Objectivity, Dissertations -- Political science