An evaluation of the media coverage of the 2011 general elections in Zambia: a case study of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation,MuVI TV, Times of Zambia and the Post Newspaper
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Since the reinstitution of multi-party democracy in Zambia, the media landscape has been liberalized. This also meant access to different sources of information improved dramatically. This helped stimulate lively debate on current affairs and politics amongst Zambians. However, during recent years the media became increasingly perceived to be polarised with media houses blatantly choosing sides, i.e. being clearly pro-government or clearly pro-opposition. Some of the leading media houses seem to have abandoned all pretext of fair reporting to support their chosen party. This also makes it difficult for the general public to make objectively informed choices and decisions in national elections. It was against this background that this study was undertaken to evaluate media content before, during, and after the 2011 general elections in Zambia. The study sought to investigate what messages the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), MUVI TV, Times of Zambia and The Post provided for voters in the run-up-to the 2011 general elections so as to establish whether there was a relationship between the way media covered the electoral process and the way citizens voted. To achieve this goal, the study utilized the triangulation method. A total of 100 respondents were interviewed and 377 pieces of news were collected for quantitative data. The study also examined civil society perceptions towards the coverage through in-depth interviews. The central hypothesis of this research is that the polarisation that characterised media coverage of the electoral process in Zambia did not favour the electorate who might have had to rely on media representations of the various political parties as a basis for their political choices. The research established that most media content had low quality and depth of coverage of the electoral process. This was reflected in most content that had more verbatim quotes from sources lacking in-depth follow through, analytical and researched information to help the electorates in deciding on political candidates. Added to this were the low levels of policy and impact information in content presented in the media. Much of the content further showed a bias towards certain political parties apparently preferred by media outlets. This was evident in the numbers of sources from particular political groupings, consistently dominating over long periods of media coverage. On a positive note however, the research uncovered evidence which showed that the media kept personalities based news to minimum levels of approximately 2% of the news during the campaign period. The implications of this research are clear. The media’s coverage of the 2011 elections was driven by the political allegiances of the public and private media
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