‘Politainment’ as election coverage

If the US Presidential primaries are anything to go by, elections are great entertainment. Donald Trump has the world gasping at his arrogance, contradictions and hairstyle. Hillary Clinton bustles on like a granny intent on organising her household. Bernie Sanders gruffly pushes the line that not to elect him could be a disaster for the Democrats.

trump hillary and billWell, I guess if Hillary is indicted for breaching national security with her home emails, it will be a disaster. If the FBI doesn’t get her first the Republicans surely will try to impeach her if she becomes President.

These characters on the political stage become one-dimensional cartoons of themselves as the media try to reveal their strengths and weaknesses but only succeed in boosting their showmanship. Policy issues go hang. Here’s a new word: Politainment.

municipal elections 2016But my concerns lie closer to home. South Africans may soon go to the polls to elect new local councils at municipal level. I say they “may” because, while the date of 3 August has been set down by President Jacob Zuma, the Constitutional Court has yet to rule on whether the election can take place.

A minor trifle that millions in the electorate have no recorded home addresses (which opens the way for fraud and bussing-in) has the ConCourt tied in knots. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng doesn’t want to disenfranchise these millions or rule that all addresses must be collected (a task that could take many months) but there doesn’t seem to be a legal remedy.

The existing law says clearly that addresses must be collected (and this has been the case since 2003) but the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has failed in the task of doing so. There’s nothing wrong with the law, which was passed correctly through Parliament, so the ConCourt can’t rule it out of order

What IS out of order is the IEC which has sat on its hands for 13 years, not doing what it was required to do: get the addresses. Let’s watch as the ConCourt tries to square the circle.

It seems that either the ConCourt must tell Parliament to pass an Enabling Act or some loophole in the law must be found to fudge the issue. Either way, to allow the elections to proceed is to condone the IEC’s laxity and open the way to electoral fraud.

The worrying thing is that if the IEC has proved incapable of collecting addresses for more than a decade, can it really be trusted to run a free and fair election? How would it determine if hordes of voters pitched up to sway polls in certain wards but didn’t belong in those wards?

No-one would be happier at this outcome than the ANC which needs every vote it can scrounge from anywhere.

Bit of a joke, ain’t it.

The real joker in the pack lurks in the background. President Zuma is a cartoon character of note, like one of those spooks in the comics in a dark cloak and hat with his collars turned up, ready to spring on his enemies at any moment. Only, there’s nothing mysterious about him.

zuma cartoon as naked emperor

Lurching from scandal to scandal – yet always protected by a servile ruling party in Parliament – the President has no clothes, or to put it another way he hasn’t got a shred of credibility left. Zapiro’s cartoon says it all.

In the past few weeks the ConCourt ruled he had failed to uphold the Constitution by avoiding payment for improvements to his personal property paid for by the State; and a few days later the Supreme Court ruled that 783 charges including accepting bribes and money laundering should be reinstated.

Ho-hum, this is all routine for our President. If he survives this election it’ll be a credit to his cunning. He could give lessons to Trump in saying and doing what he likes without fear or favour of consequences.

Anyway, we can all enjoy the show while it lasts. It just happens that I am going to be running a 2-day workshop on Elections Coverage for SA journalists in a week’s time. I dearly hope that by stressing the somewhat serious nature of voter choices we can redraw the cartoon storyboard in a bit more depth.

We’ll be using tools of data journalism to mine rich veins of information about local councils and their electorates. Service delivery failures are the elephant in the room, and it will be useful for journalists to know how to uncover and reveal what local councillors have and have not done for their communities.

It’s politainment at a deeper level.

⦁ WORKSHOP: The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism is offering a two-day election reporting course on May 26-27 at its premises in Richmond, Johannesburg. Leading the course is Prof Graeme Addison, a media and communications specialist with an extensive background in techniques of multimedia news coverage. Email or call Dimakatso Mathe at 011 – 482 4990. Website: ⦁

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