Johannesburg - There is no evidence of media hostility towards the ANC in reporting on security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma's homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal, a researcher said on Tuesday.
“The questions relating to the alleged hostility of the news media towards the ANC, their lack of respect for the dignity of public figures, and their not acting in the interests of the public were found to be unfounded in this coverage,” said Prof Jeanne Prinsloo.
“The analysis of the editorials in particular, but also the reporting in general, shows that the investigation takes a position of moral indignation both at the expenditure on the... homestead and at the cavalier way that information was obscured.”
Prinsloo is the author of the Media Policy and Democracy Project's (MPDP) critical textual analysis of press coverage of the R206 million upgrades.
The MPDP is a collaborative research initiative between the University of SA's department of communication and science and Rhodes University's school of journalism and media studies.
Prinsloo analysed the City Press and Mail&Guardian's coverage of what she called “Nkandlagate”.
The study was focused on investigative journalism and not routine reporting.
She said her study covered a calendar year from September 2012, and made reference to 84 of the 300 news articles and editorials sampled online.
Prinsloo said that while the two newspapers had been highly critical, they had not attacked the African National Congress, the office of the president or that of public officials. Rather, they were critical of particular forms of conduct.
“To argue that the media have attacked the dignity of the ANC politicians involved would require that the politicians have been wrongfully accused, or that the journalist made ad hominem attacks.”
Prinsloo said the ANC's public officials felt no obligation to provide access to the information about public spending that was requested, and Zuma at no stage saw it fit to address the issue or reassure the public.
Zuma's defence remained one of ignorance, as did that of several other ANC politicians.
“The impatience with requests for information on the part of these ANC officials, their reluctance to provide information and a frequently hectoring tone, point to their attitude toward the news media and indirectly to the public,” she said.
“President Zuma's supporters similarly responded aggressively, at times resorting to accusations of racism.”
There was a dismissive attitude on the part of the ANC's public officials, who on several occasions guaranteed the media and public access to the public works report on the upgrades and then denied this access.
Their conduct was disrespectful, not only to journalists but to the public as well, Prinsloo found.
She said it was ironic that the ANC had endorsed the Nkandla expenditure when, in its 2010 document entitled “Media Transformation ownership and diversity”, it had lamented the role the media played in encouraging greed.
Prinsloo quoted from the document: “Our souls are being poisoned by the spirit of conspicuous consumption in a socio-economic formation that encourages greed”.
She said it was important to point out that the research did not represent a whitewash of the news media.