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Warning to the ANC: Beware the fourth estate in the 2019 national elections

Here is my declaration

 

The fourth estate has become the de facto player in the politics of South Africa, influencing public opinion on a whole range of related issues.

My declaration is backed by 1) a Pew research finding that I shall share shortly, which shows that citizens of Mzansi (a Zulu word loosely used to refer to South Africa) trust reports from the fourth estate, coupled with 2) eNitiate’s online analysis of the 54th ANC elective conference that you can read here.

 

First, the definition of the fourth estate

 

As defined on Wikipedia, the “Fourth Estate (or fourth power) is a segment of society that wields an indirect but significant influence on society even though it is not a formally recognized part of the political system. The most commonly recognized part of the fourth estate is the news media, or press.”

Given the increasing role of the new media channel in the dissemination of news in South Africa, and across the world, I believe that the definition of the fourth estate warrants broadening.

Key aspects of this channel are worth noting:

 

New Media Aspects
Its unmatched ability to spread news quickly, and far and wide.
The explosion of self-appointed citizen journalists, with the result that everyone who has internet enabled phone in their possession is effectively a news reporter.
The increasing allure of especially Twitter to politicians, both in the ANC (the ruling party) and the opposition, who themselves have become citizen journalists and sometimes even tweet resolutions during closed sessions of their own parties!
The vigilance by resurgent and new civic organisations, such as Section 27, that have also become online publishers in their own right, thanks again to the Internet.
The many political analysts who are becoming celebrities on social media.
Members of the tripartite alliance that is lead by the ANC who are increasingly vocal about their displeasure at the state of affairs of this relationship on social media.
The increasingly fierce competition among media agencies to be the first to break news stories, with active usage of social media to get their scoops to trend followed by driving of traffic to their news platforms, and thus claim the bragging rights for being the first to break such stories.

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More about why the ANC has work to do to get on the right side of the fourth estate or risk losing the 2019 elections.

DISCLAIMER: I do not claim to be a political analyst. That is not my space. But I am an online data analytics junkie. Thus, my views in this blog post are based purely on this passion.

 

Did the fourth estate influence the presidential election outcomes of recent 54th ANC elective conference?

 

We published 2 posts on our blog during and immediately after the recent 54th Presidential Elective Conference of the ANC in December, where we were checking whether public online sentiment influenced the voting of the 14th President of Africa’s oldest liberation movement by the card-carrying members of the party.

RELATED POST: How election of Ramaphosa saved ANC Elective Conference from Twitter wrath

Our analysis of more than 18o 000 online mentions related to the conference and its 2 leading presidential candidates – Cyril Ramaphosa (CR17) and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ17), indicated the country’s preference for the former. I am convinced that the public sentiment, expressed on Twitter as a proxy, found its way into the polling booths at Nasrec where the conference was held and voting happened, and in turn the organisation was rewarded with the lifting of the mood, and the national currency’s strength, when the overall preferred candidate triumphed.

We are not going to explore the reasons behind public’s preference for Ramaphosa in this post, but you can read about it here.

 

Why should the ANC, South Africa’s ruling political party, recognise the power of the fourth estate given the coming 2019 elections?

 

The stat that inspired this post is captured in the Statista graph below.<img src="eNitiate-Statista-Pew-Media-Perception-Accuracy-Graph-2017.png" alt="Media Accuracy Perception Research Graph | 2017”>

In the wake of fake news that allegedly influenced outcomes of the 2016 American elections, Pew Research conducted a study in 38 countries around the world to establish public perceptions about the accuracy of media reports.

What caught my attention is how high South Africa is in the media reports accuracy perception graph – at number 5 after Netherlands, India, Canada and Germany!

My interpretation of the stat that 7 out of 10 South Africans trust media reports is simply that the fourth estate has the power to influence public sentiment.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Implications for the ANC in the wake of the coming 2019 elections?

Remarkably, the government is not in the good books of the fourth estate at the moment. Let me demonstrate.

 

As I am publishing this post…

 

I am watching the following updates on TV:

Inquiries
Live grilling of Anoj Singh, former Eskom CFO, at the SOE’s Parliament inquiry that has been going on for more than 12 hours, and time now is 00:09 in the morning. #EskomInquiry and #AnojSingh are 1st and 4th most trending topics.
News about the outstanding terms of reference for the State of Capture inquiry.
Highlights of appearance by Qedani Mahlangu, former of Gauteng Province Health MEC, at Esidimeni inquiry. #QedaniMahlangu is 20th most trending topic on Twitter.
Highlights of Transnet Board appearance before Scopa. #transnet is 17th most trending topic.
Highlights of appearance by Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development, before the Sassa inquiry. #SASSA and “Bathabile Dlamini” are 7th and 11th most trending topics.

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<img src="eNitiate-Eskom-Inquiry-Anoj-Singh-23-January-2018.png" alt="Eskom Inquiry | Anoj Singh | 23 January 2018”>

The 5 news updates above, which are all in the top 20 trending topics on Twitter at the time of publishing this post, involve inquiries of government departments and SOE’s under ANC control as a result of maladministration and corruption allegations.

Noteworthy, the fourth estate has played an active role in putting and maintaining a spotlight on the events that lead to the inquiries above, and in at least one case – corruption allegations related to Eskom – it broke the leaked email news.

For any voting South African, this is not a good public show for the ruling party. If this trend continues, I do not see how the fourth estate will not sway the vote in favour of the opposition who are already emboldened.

 

RELATED POSTConstitutional Court caseload has more than tripled in the 22 years since its establishment. Good or bad?

 

Despite all of the above

 

Yes, there has been a lot of political turmoil in South Africa of late, and the ratings agencies confirmed this with the downgrades mainly in 2017. However, it is great to know that we are still a free society, judging by the number of memes that have been mocking our President without the originators being persecuted or thrown into jail without trial. See these 4 examples that were extracted from Google and Twitter:

 

Closing note to Ramaphosa

 

Isende le ndlela #GoogleTranslation

 

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