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Political Communication in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Year: 2011
Working paper number: 299
Author: Glenn, I
Unit: DARU
Any politically interested foreigner visiting South Africa from the developed world would see and hear much in the country's mass communications infrastructure that would appear familiar. Much of this is due to the country's colonial legacy, which shaped both the country's media and political models. The oldest newspaper, for example, the Cape Times, as well as the state broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) overtly modeled themselves, (the latter following input from Lord Reith, head of the BBC), on British originals. In the post-apartheid era, the tabloid The Daily Sun pays tribute, in name if not in substance, to the UK's leading tabloid. South Africa has four local national free-to-air television channels as well as subscription satellite television services carrying around a dozen international news channels. Each major city and many smaller ones have newspapers, often several. Large subscription papers are either in English or in Afrikaans, but many local newspapers publish in African languages. The country's papers carry extensive political coverage with robust commentary and debate, as well as sharp political satire in the form of cartoons or even satiric comic strips. More recently, tabloid newspapers have entered the market reaching new audiences and portraying new concerns. Much international material makes its way into local political news reporting, and many international publications like the Financial Times, Time or Newsweek are printed and distributed locally. There is also a robust culture of political discussion on talk radio and a growing, lively culture of internet debate and political blogging, and even a satiric internet-based news parody show, Znews, on the lines of Spitting Image. Yet this sense of familiarity risks missing many of the features that make South Africa – as a developing society with a racially diverse population and massive enduring social inequities – such an intriguing study of "mixed" political communications, combining features of pre-modern, modern and post-modern political communication, meaning that the influence of a local chief or union steward, broadcast political news, and new media forms like blogging and Facebook all matter. For many black South Africans, the media landscape may seem characteristically modern: access limited to broadcast television or news provided in indigenous languages by a public broadcaster, or to widely read populist tabloid newspapers. For many wealthier South Africans, particularly whites, the media landscape now has all the characteristics of post-modernity: it is characterized by fragmentation, almost unlimited choice, and a diminishing sense of national conversation or shared political destiny.
Publication file: WP299.pdf