Voices, violence, and visuals in a mediatised world: how television news covered South Africa’s five general elections

Bernadine Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


With the spotlight shining so brightly on the Trump-era of electioneering and political journalism, one tends to forget that mediatisation and neoliberal reporting exists in non-Western election coverage too. While online news challenges our traditional understanding of newsgathering and dissemination, television news is still a powerful political tool, especially in developing democracies and particularly in South Africa – the base of this research. This paper investigates just one research question: how five South African general elections (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014) were reported on local and international television news, and as such it aims to shed light on the type of mediatised reporting in a non-Western country, with particular focus on the visual and discourse narratives. I evaluate three variables across the five elections years: who speaks when reporting the elections; the visual representation of violence and the discourse of that violence; and finally how neoliberal mythologies work to promote a Western understanding about an African democracy. In sum, these three variables show that mediatised reporting – that is, a thrust towards populist political journalism, soft news, game frames, and punditry – has increased over the five election periods. The importance of “listening” to the view from the ground cannot be overstated, especially during volatile situations and rising unrest. When the populace no longer feel they are taken seriously or, worse, no longer trust the representation they are given by an unsympathetic and uncaring media, citizens tend to distrust journalists. Duncan (2014), Cross (2010), Bennett (2012: 2), and Louw (2005: 81) suggest that recent political journalism prefers drama to depth, pundits over people, and personalities over policies, a view to which this study adheres. This “hype-ocracy” (Louw, 2005: 50) tends to value the “priestly caste” (Nimmo & Combs, 1992: 24) of experts, celebrities, and smooth talkers over politicians and citizens, and devolves thoughtful viewpoints into an echo chamber of sound bites. This paper provides a theoretical indication for the symptoms of mediatised coverage during elections in South Africa – the lack of listening and context flattens narratives and gives an entangled, confusing representation of the experience of democracy. The paper ends with recommendations for broadcasters to increase grassroots voices and avoid fragmented, neoliberal depictions of developing democracies where a strong link between journalists and political candidates is crucial.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2018
EventInternational Communication Association: Making sense of election reporting: new directions, new challenges? - Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 24 May 2018 → …


ConferenceInternational Communication Association
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Period24/05/18 → …


  • television news
  • news sources
  • Political Communication
  • journalism


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