Media coverage of the arms deal by The Star and Sowetan

Rague, Anne-Marie
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ABSTRACT This research report looks at the coverage of the Strategic Defence Procurement Package by two South African daily newspapers: The Star and Sowetan and ANC president Jacob Zuma alleged involvement to determine whether or not the media were ‘bias’ in their coverage. Using a qualitative approach (thematic and semiotic analysis) as well as a case study approach, this looks at codes and themes within headlines, news articles and editorials for tone (negative or positive), placement (fore-grounded and back-grounded voices and views), emphasis and interpretation, political crisis as well as Jacob Zuma’s image/ personality. Apart from the media representation of the arms deal, this study also analysed how Jacob Zuma used the media to get his message across to the public through the analysis of political speeches for signs of political rhetoric and this include his response to the charges against him, reactions of both his allies (those who openly support him), opponents (whom this study has categorized as those calling for his trial) and organisations or agencies that are considered ‘neutral’- the National Prosecuting Authority and its investigative unit, the Directorate of Special Operations (DSO) (which brought the charges against him), State advocates and the Court. The critical political economic theory, theories of representation and theories of political communication and mediatised politics, provided the tools with which the issue of bias could be presented and argued. The eventual analysis was that the issue of bias is highly subjective. What may be seen as ‘bias’ in one paper, may not be the case in another newspaper as discussions on issues of media journalism have moved away from ‘bias’ and lean more towards issues of ‘objectivity’. Jacob Zuma’s interaction with the media is seen as reciprocal but not as free/ amicable since the media, although independent, still relies on official sources for its news. In conclusion, the study stresses that although involvement in the arms deal scandal is not unique as seen from past records especially where arms procurement involved government-to- government transactions, the political and economic impact of the arms deal industry, especially on third world countries cannot be ignored and the challenges that the media increasingly face in trying to access ‘confidential’ documents in what seems to be an increasingly corrupt, man-eat-man society cannot be ignored too.