Report raises questions about media sources

Nearly one-fifth of more than 30 000 news items in the Southern African region published over 14 days last year were based on anonymous sources, according to a report released on Tuesday.

“Across the region, stories based on anonymous sources accounted for 18% of the total. This is relatively high and raises concerns about the quality of journalism generally,” states the Gender and Media Progress Study conducted by Gender Links.

Malawi had the highest number of stories based on anonymous sources (51%), followed by Madagascar (33%) and Mauritius (31%).

South Africa had 12% of its stories based on anonymous sources.

Botswana scored the lowest in the region with 3%.

The study analysed 33 431 news items published in 83 newspapers and broadcast on radio and television for 14 days between October 19 and November 16 2009 in Southern Africa.

Almost one-third of the stories (31%) were based on secondary sources instead of primary sources.

“This is high, and is a source of concern,” says the report.

A primary source is one in which a subject is interviewed, whereas a secondary source is a report.

“There were, however, wide variations across countries, from 92% primary sources in Zimbabwe [the best], to only 25% in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Madagascar [57%] and DRC [75%] were the only two countries in the study in which stories based on secondary sources exceeded those based on primary sources.”

In South Africa, 78% of stories were based on primary sources and 22% on secondary sources.

‘Weak media practice’
The report points out another “weak media practice that often has gender dimensions”—the usage of single versus multiple sources.

“It is common in news reporting to only hear the views of the person in authority, for example the minister ... In our male-dominated society, if only one source is consulted, there is a strong likelihood that this will be a man.

“This not only results in male hegemony of the news, it weakens journalistic practice,” the report reads.

In South Africa, 62% of reports analysed were based on single sources, slightly below the regional average of 67%.

“Only Malawi and Botswana had roughly equal numbers of single and multiple source stories.”—Sapa



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