Presenting at IAMCR 2016

Things have been up in the air lately. I don’t mean my research – I’m steadily working through chapters and data. I’m talking about going to a research conference.

The International Association of Media and Communication Research is one of the largest meetings of media experts in the world. This year, the IAMCR conference will be held in Leicester, and my abstract on “The Struggle Narrative: censorship of media in post-democracy South Africa and the ANC’s quest for liberation hegemony” was accepted for the Emerging Scholars Network. My first IAMCR conference was in Hyderabad, India in 2014. What an experience! It was my first ever conference, so I was Ms OverPrepared and ready three months before my presentation date. To see my supervisors and colleagues writing up their presentations three HOURS before their slot was mind boggling to me.

Oh how things have changed.

I’m currently a one-lady-juggling-act at the Circus of CFMS, so I have to make sure I balance work, writing, analysis, and IAMCR time efficiently. What this means, in no uncertain terms, is that I haven’t yet started writing this paper. That’s not such a bad thing though. Let me explain.

I’m writing on the ANC’s struggle with the media, their quest to be the only legitimate “Liberation Movement”, and the subsequent promotion of hegemony to that end. This paper is based on my literature review (so, not really “new” research) but also some findings from my PhD. Only a little bit. That I haven’t starting writing the IAMCR paper yet doesn’t mean I haven’t started *writing*. I’ve just finished working through the comments on my literature review chapter from my supervisors (who are amazing, by the way, if they’re reading this!), and have a better grasp of the themes. One of which is media censorship / state involvement in news.

And it’s a big deal. Without free and fair, critical media in a democracy (and of course during the elections), informed citizenry is not possible. But… what is informed citizenry? What does it mean to have “free” and “fair” media? What are those terms, and what do they mean here in South Africa? Free media is supposed to mean media without interference from government, without financial/ownership constraints, and accessible to all. Clearly, there are problems here, especially considering the digital divide in South Africa (which is tied up with the urban/rural divide too). Secondly, what on earth is “fair” media? Most of the literature I reviewed looked at the length of time any party/candidate is on air. So, the amount of airtime political actors were given. If it’s equal, then the media is “fair”. But a hearing a political analyst slating Jacob Zuma for seven minutes straight over images of an ANC rally , and showing Helen Zille glad-handing supporters in a celebratory stance is clearly different. While they’re on air for the same length of time, the CONTENT is different, and so is the CONTEXT. Some research does detail some form of CDA (critical discourse analysis), but the methodology is almost always limited or missing. Very little literature speaks to these two concerns: IE they ignore the semiotics of the news items, and focus only on the quantitative length measurement.

I seek to change this. My PhD will be a semiotic analysis of the content of these media messages, rather than simply a length measurement. In turn, my IAMCR paper is about the context of these media messages: what role does governmental media policy play in the news media’s coverage of the political process in South Africa? The main concern here refers back to Anthony Butler’s “The Idea of the ANC” – the embattled ideology and image of the liberation movement colliding with the political party. Much of my IAMCR paper takes its foundation from this book, but considers recent works such as Malila’s “Tracing the ANC’s criticism of South African media“, and Gouws and De Beer’s “Media and elections in South Africa“.

This IAMCR paper won’t be an all-out criticism of the ANC. Quite the opposite. Instead, I want to track the collision between the narratives of “liberation movement” (the “Struggle party”) and the “political party” (delivering on promises) within the ANC’s hegemony. How do they present themselves? How does the media present them? What happens when these two re-presentations collide? I can’t make assumptions about the spiral of silence, or the impact this attempted censorship has on newsroom politics or the journalism profession in South Africa. What I can do, however, and what I intend to do, is track the tension between these two ideologies:

  • The ANC as the only “liberation movement” (creating a hegemony of understanding at the expense of the PAC, UDM, et al)
  • The ANC as “political party” (competing with Watchdog Journalism)

As you can see, I still have a lot to think about along these lines. At the moment my ideas are sloppy and tangled. I am writing my literature review as a third draft (yes prospective PhD candidates, the first/second/third draft is NEVER good enough), so the paper will take shape when the literature review chapter forms.

I just found out that my department is going to fund me part of the way to IAMCR this year, which I am eternally grateful for. Because of the Fees Must Fall protest reactions (but not in anyway because of the protest itself), budgets have been slashed catastrophically from all the wrong places – access to journals limited, academic positions frozen, conference and research budgets, etc. So the fact I received 2/3rds funding for this conference brought tears to my eyes. It still leaves me in an R8 000 hole, but I am trying to find that money as soon as possible. The exchange rate is pretty crippling too (R21 to the pound at last look). But, as the stereotype goes, “‘n Boer maak ‘n plan”.

Leicester, I’ll be seeing you.




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