by Virgil Hawkins
As can be seen from previous posts, the southern African region tends to be marginalized by the news media in the world beyond the region. But how about the news media within the region? Is it possible that we will find a treasure trove of information about the southern African region in the pages of the news media that operate from within?
The literature tells us that issues such as proximity, trade, and historical and cultural ties are some of the key determinants behind the levels of news coverage. If this is indeed the case, then southern Africa should feature quite prominently in the media there. But is it the case? This post looks at coverage in the Sowetan, one of South Africa's best-selling national newspapers, to find out.
The results of a survey of three months worth of coverage (November 2012 to January 2013) were not promising. With the exception of Zimbabwe, which was the object of 17 articles on issues ranging from politics and land to diamonds and marijuana, most southern African countries attracted precious little coverage.
In spite of a simmering rebellion, the deployment of South African troops (two of whom were hurt in crossfire during the period studied), and a visit by President Jacob Zuma, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, was the object of just 7 articles. This was less than the number of articles in the same paper on distant Israel (8) over the same period. By way of another comparison, the UK royal family garnered as many as 19 articles, with Prince Harry's return from 'killing' in Afghanistan and the royal pregnancy occupying prominent positions in the paper. Lance Armstrong's confessions on doping saw the publication of 9 articles.
Malawi was the object of one article – and this was only because Madonna was reportedly building schools there. South Africa's leading trading partner in the region, Botswana, was unable to garner a single article, and nor were Tanzania or Madagascar, where ongoing political crisis remains a major source of concern in the region. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is certainly interested in Madagascar – it was a key agenda item at extraordinary summits held in Tanzania in December 2012 and January 2013. But while the Sowetan reported in advance that Zuma would lead a delegation to those summits, it failed to report during or after the summits were held – what was (or was not) actually achieved at those summits remained unbeknown to the readers.
This gloomy set of statistics does not mean, however, that the goings on in the region are being entirely neglected. Sports news was published in relative abundance, particularly with the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations being held at the time. Perhaps if we can get the politicians and decision-makers out of the corridors of power and onto a football pitch, we might have a better chance of sparking media interest, and in the process, raising some regional awareness, cooperation and cohesion.