South African journalism and the Marikana massacre: A case study of an editorial failure

Jane Duncan


This article examines the early press coverage of the police massacre of striking mineworkers in Marikana, South Africa, on the 16th of August 2012. It includes a quantitative and qualitative content analysis of a representative coverage sample from the country’s mainstream newspapers. From this analysis, it is apparent that the coverage was heavily biased towards official accounts of the massacre, and that it overwhelmingly favoured business sources of news and analysis. Business sources were the most likely to be primary definers of news stories. In contrast, the miners’ voices barely featured independently of the main trade union protagonists, which was significant as many miners did not feel sufficiently represented by the unions. The failure of journalists to speak to miners sufficiently led to a major editorial failure in the early press coverage, as it failed to reveal the full extent of police violence against the miners. As a result, the police version of events was allowed to stand largely unchallenged before a group of academics put the fuller account into the public domain after having interviewed miners. The coverage also contained dominant themes which portrayed the miners as inherently violent, disposed to irrationality and even criminality. The article traces the problems that arose in the coverage, specifically, in regard to organisational and occupational demands in South African newsrooms. More generally, problems in the coverage also reflect the transition of South Africa’s political economy. This transition has reproduced and reinforced the country’s social inequalities. These circumstances have facilitated the growth of police violence against workers and the poor.

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