Has President Cyril Ramaphosa benefited from the media’s exceptionally benevolent and fawning coverage? Is it accurate to say that the Phala Phala affair would have received greater attention and critical media coverage if another ANC politician had been in charge of the state? … write Keaobaka Tsholo and Olerato Manyaapelo …
PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa has been involved in several additional scandals throughout his time as president, but they don’t appear to have affected the way the public perceives him, or the way the media covers him.
The first issue erupted when it was suspected that his presidential campaign (#CR17) had been supported by people who or organisations which might have benefited from, or are currently benefiting from his presidency.
The theft of money set up for the government’s reaction to the Covid-19 outbreak in 2002 was the second. Especially in light of his pledge to combat corruption throughout his presidential term, his government was charged with failing to prevent and address misconduct in the Covid tender process.
The third controversy concerned the theft of millions of dollars from his property in the province of Limpopo, which he hid for an additional two years before the former head of intelligence revealed it.
Instead of providing answers, this raises a number of questions, such as: Were these substantial amounts of foreign currency revealed to the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) to allay concerns about money laundering? What about the claims that this crisis was covered up for more than a year by state law enforcement agencies?
However, unlike controversies involving other politicians, there has not been the normal media zeal to make a meal out this most recent issue. As a result, some of Ramaphosa’s detractors have said that the media has taken sides in the ANC’s internal disputes leading up to its 2022 national conference.
‘With the media firmly rooted in the capitalist system, through ownership patterns, they become tools for repeating the ideas of the dominant class in society, and for limiting democratic space for the poor and marginalised.’
Political and media/communication analysts have also questioned if the media is actually interested in uncovering scandals at any costs to aid in the battle against corruption, as well as their ethics and independence.
The public’s perception of politicians and their governments is significantly shaped by the media. In essence, the media is vital to democracy because they spread information and increase societal political consciousness. As a result, the way the media reports on political actions and inactions affects how those actions turn out. The media has a role in framing the public’s impressions of issues, as well as which of our public figures are problematic, and which are brave and honourable.
According to Mandla J Radebe’s hypothesis, however, “with the media firmly rooted in the capitalist system, through ownership patterns, they become tools for repeating the ideas of the dominant class in society and for limiting democratic space for the poor and marginalised.” Democracy will ultimately fail if the media only reports on certain things.
Sanctifying and protecting Ramaphosa
Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), charged that The Sunday Times had sanctified and protected Ramaphosa during a news conference at the start of June 2022.
Malema claimed that Ramaphosa’s administration has led to a worsening of the socio-economic situation for average South Africans, and a deepening of corruption in governmental institutions. His argument is that, unlike with the ANC government before him, the media has not highlighted Ramaphosa’s failings. As a result, the media have failed to uphold democratic values and principles in South Africa.
Ramaphosa is allegedly not being held responsible by the media as a result of his strong influence over political reporting and media coverage. According to reports, the vocabulary they use to discuss corruption under Ramaphosa’s administration differs from that used to discuss Jacob Zuma.
Because of this, there is a growing feeling that the media is shielding Ramaphosa, despite mounting evidence of his probable incapacity to get this country out of its socio-economic storm. While the media should be the protector of democracy, some of them appear to be involved in a plot.
According to rumours, the media actively supported Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign, which explains the current scenario. In contrast, Zuma was allegedly defamed and made unpopular by the media even before he was elected president.
The BBC, despite the fact that South African media sometimes mimics Western media, has repeatedly taken the Ramaphosa crises seriously, while our media has remained complacent.
Ramaphosa’s administration has not necessarily failed to address poverty and unemployment any more than past administrations, because global economics also had an impact on South Africa’s economic and social progress. This begs the question: Has the South African media actually been taken hostage?
This brings us full circle to Radebe’s earlier comment on how capitalist interests control the media at the expense of the disadvantaged. The media frequently urges Ramaphosa to consider disclosing more information on Phala Phala when the case goes to court, in order to downplay the scandals that have dogged him.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), despite the fact that South African media sometimes mimics Western media, has repeatedly taken the Ramaphosa crises seriously, while our media has remained complacent. It has stated that the recent scandal is a sign of a significant issue.
Perhaps Ramaphosa’s dedication to combating corruption was only a counter-narrative to the radical economic transformation hailed by his rivals in the race for the ANC presidency. It might have been chosen as a motif around which political discourse could be constructed to prevent the ANC from collapsing before the most recent elections.
If the latter is true, this political communication approach has been successful, because many people, including the media, do not want to “undermine” Ramaphosa’s fight against corruption. The remaining members of the Zuma faction that was denounced will be strengthened if his flaws are highlighted.
But eventually, the media must realise that they have a social responsibility that should take precedence over allowing Ramaphosa to demonstrate his abilities.
Keaobaka Tsholo and Olerato C Manyaapelo are junior research interns at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg. The views expressed here are theirs.