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Monday, March 5, 2012

How the South African Media promotes ideology

By: Lindokuhle Mnisi

How the media in South Africa promotes ideology, and how the said ideology has found practical expression in the media landscape (contemporary), in South Africa

Before going any further with different perspectives about ideology and how it is pushed by the media in South Africa, we need to start by defining Ideology. Ideology, according to the Oxford (Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, International Student’s edition) New 8th edition, is a set of beliefs, especially one held by a particular group, that influence the way people think. It is also defined as a set of ideas that an economic or political system is based on.

Ideology, according to me, is a particular agenda that is pushed forward by the people in charge or in power (the media in this case) to persuade the masses (their target market, public) to follow their trend. The media decides what should be seen, heard and/or known by the public. Writers bombard readers with their perspectives about a variety of issues (ideas) and those perspectives comes to the critically analysing public as ideologies. These set of ideas are sold to the public for various reasons. For example, to shape people’s mind set and let them think in one particular (narrow) way. The media goes out to search for the under developed areas and they report about them to make the ruling party seem incompetent and failing to serve for the needs of the voters.

The media (institutions and organizations) as they decide on what they choose to report and what not to report to the people, they manipulate people’s minds in such logical extent. Example: Two City Press journalists go out to cover different stories about the suspended ANCYL president Julius Malema. The 1st reporter brings a “clean” article about Malema being in church, donating clothes and food to his nearby orphanage centre and giving back to the community. The 2nd reporter brings thorough investigated story on Malema who was seen entering a guns shop and purchasing an illegally fire arm. The editor of City Press, Ferial Haffajee, has to take the decision on which story should be published and because they want the public to view Malema on their chosen perspectives they will go with the scandal story so that the public think of Malema in that manner.

Ideology is also promoted by the people who fund the media. Media is also regarded as business; they serve the interests of their financial contributors (advertisers and readers). The SABC is somehow funded by the government (ANC as the majority in parliament) and there is no way the SABC can expose or bad-mouth ANC. They will always try by all means to push a positive Public Relations (PR) on behalf of the ANC government. The ideology that they will be taking to the public is that ANC is good and delivering. If Coca-Cola is advertising its products on the front pages of the Sowetan newspaper every day, obviously if there’s any scandal involving Coca-Cola and The Sowetan has the information they won’t expose it to the public because they don’t want to lose customers. By so doing they are pushing the ideology that Coca-Cola is the best company ever to the public, people take that as gospel.

Present atleast two contrasting views on ideology (one neutral and the other critical)


Neutral theory of ideology says every ideology is equal and not always useful. It doesn’t cause confusions nor push certain agendas. These are the ideas that are benefiting societies and serve their interests of communities. All ideologies, according to neutral theory of ideology, are respected and no ideology is superior to the other.

Neutral ideologies are being pushed in small groups or the whole society and cater for everyone involved or coming from that organization or particular area. People are equal. Democracy does not exist or is rather limited according to this theory of ideology. For example, the community organizations in townships that struggle for better service delivery and tackle issues including RDPs, roads, infrastructure, etc. In Soshanguve there’s an organization called United Democratic Civic Organization (UDECO) that is pushing the agenda of saying they (UDECO) are fighting for those community members, who applied many years ago, to get their RDP house.


Critical theory of ideology says power is given to the minority who then rule the societies and make laws on behalf of the majority. The ANC pushed the ideology of democracy which enable minorities to seat in offices and make laws on behalf of the entire country. In one way or the other, people who benefit mostly are those in power because they are the ones who are responsible for allocation of state money and if they feel like not giving it out they don’t.

A brilliant example would be in the communities that are under the Chief rule. The chief, as the leader of that community, owns majority of resources and so his ideas are superior to any others. Ideology is not on the same level and so not equal. Power only belongs to the royal King and everybody has to comply with all rules made by the King. Those from dominant class have dominant ideologies. As Marx’s realist theory of ideology assumes that a person’s position within the economic and social relations directly determines his or her ideology.

Relating everything to the media, it is known (opinion) that mass media is owned by the minority that are in power and by so doing the media has the potential of communicating false information to the people only if that information is in favour of the owners. For example; Talk Radio 702 is white dominated, which is the reason why the question of affirmative action is tackle differently than on the SABC. The issue of apartheid and discrimination is handled lightly not to offend the white minority.

Distinguish or relate ideology to propaganda using at least FOUR examples.

Ideology may seem related to propaganda but logically and critically these two are totally different things, literally and practically. Ideology as it was defined, by me, as a set of ideas and strategies that aim to persuade people to act in a particular manner or follow certain trend. Propaganda is usually ideas or statements that may be false or exaggerated and that are used in order to gain support for a political leader or party and any position. Four examples to distinguish ideology with propaganda are:

When the South African ruling party, African National Congress, is campaigning for elections they go to rural villages and townships around the country to make promises, and when they win the elections they no-longer go back to fulfil those promises. The ANC came to Dundonald (my home village) in 2009 and promised us RDP houses and food parcels. The strategy they used was very tricky in a sense that we all believed that they were going to deliver if we vote for them. They erected water taps (that are always dry even today) and put foundations for the houses and they left us like that until today. That was clever propaganda.

The media pushes the ideology that the government want to silence the people with the introduction of the Media Appeals Tribunal (MAT) and the Protection of State Information Bill. The media claims everything is in the public interest while they choose what to be seen by the public, then everything that is in the editor’s interest is said to be in the public’s interest. That is ideology of the media.

Propaganda was pushed by the OMO Company with the Door-to-door campaign. I was working behind the scene for most of the adverts, to the public they made it seem like they knock to people’s doors spontaneously and give people thousands of money but in reality it wasn’t like that. It was a promotion of the washing powder whereby we, members of the agency, would take the crew to our homes for shooting and for the R20 000 vouchers we picked up they only give us R600 for that shoot. By that the sales of the OMO products were high, people joining the competitions for nothing.

The ideology pushed by the media that the education system of South Africa is poor is also of consideration. That idea is used to provoke the government to implement better curriculum and strategies to improve even better. The pass rate goes up every year but the media still have guts to go out and say there’s a lot that needs to be done. In private schools pupils are passing with distinctions in Mathematics and Physical Sciences but when they do the evaluations and statistics they go to government schools where they fail rate is high. We have engineers and doctors but they keep pushing that we don’t have them. That’s the ideology to get more.

A stand of my own opinion to state which definition of ideology (neutral or critical) I think finds resonance with me. Explain why? 3 paragraphs

I find resonance with the critical definition of ideology. With the understanding of the South African political landscape I find the critical theory of ideology too controversial and reflect reality. It is an undisputed fact that economical and political power belongs to the minorities that we (citizens) elected and voted for. In the name of democracy there are many laws, regulations and legislatures that the majority are forced to abide to. The ideology of one leader and couple of executive members is exposed and practiced in many organizations. For example, the Congress of the South African Trade Union (COSATU) is an organization that fights for the rights of the citizens and workers etc, (giving rights to strike, petition and/or protest).

The Star newspaper is owned by foreign individuals who decide what to be published, when it should be published and how. Those minority people (editorial team) have the power to inform and educate the people as they also have the power to manipulate their minds to think and behave in a particular way. As news absorbers we have three understanding and analysis of every mass media programme we observe. First analysis is that we take everything as real; second analysis is that we understand that the people are acting; third analysis is that we can be too critical and say even though they are acting but they reflect what they are. For example, Dineo Mashaba on the popular soapie, Generations, is stereotyped as a “bitch” because of the role she plays on screen. People say she is an actress, some says she is acting but reflects her real lifestyle while some just slam her personally saying she is a bitch. But take what is said and done in the media as a gospel while some criticize but in this case the argument remains to say the media, as a minority, is pushing lots of ideologies that shape people’s minds.

Karl Marx wanted to understand how minorities were able to maintain power and why the vast majority of people accepted a system and even acted in ways the consequences of which seemed to be against their own interests. Why did subordinated populations accept their subordination and even act in ways that continue that status? Quoting Marx (1975)

In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material power of production. The totality of these relations of productions constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation on which legal and political superstructure arises and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond. The mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social determines their consciousness (Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney; Media Making, 1998; 181)

Identify (with examples), at least FIVE techniques through which the hegemonic forces in South Africa use the media to push through certain ideologies. 3 Paragraphs

Hegemony refers to a situation in which a ruling class, or more precisely, an alliance of fractions of the ruling classes, is able not only to coerce subordinate classes to conform to their interests, but to exert "total authority" over the classes. The composition of hegemony is determined by the interests of the various class fractions represented in the "hegemonic bloc". The power it exerts over subservient classes cannot rest solely on force and coercion - it needs to be attained “without force predominating excessively over consent". The granting of legitimacy to the dominant classes must appear not only spontaneous but also natural and inevitable.

A religious group (church) is an example. Christians has used the mass media to push Christianity ideology. Christianity, as a foreign belief in Africa, came with individuals from outside who took advantage and convinced people to be Christians, palliative treatment. Lots of pastors now go on national televisions to preach the gospel that were brought to them by imperialists. Schools are other examples of hegemonic forces. The school governing bodies (SGB) are a minority whose ideologies are always dominating. Hence the ruling classes make dominant ideology the common sense of all the classes within the social formation. The Congress of South African Students (Cosas) also comes under the schools hegemonic forces whereby all students and learners are represented by a small movement called Cosas.

Mass media is also an example. Majority of all media companies in South Africa are owned by foreigners, e.g. The Star newspaper. The regulations and decisions making for everything within the company are made by those in charge, foreign owners on this matter. They use their powers to push their ideologies. Even those media companies owned by South Africans also push their ideologies through the mass media. They decide what should be seen by the public, they serve the interests of their advertisers and therefore the ideology being pushed is within the management.

Politics is also an example of hegemonic force that uses the media to push ideologies in South Africa. Politicians have a love-hate relationship with journalists and the media. They call press conferences and make media release or media briefing only when they want to push an ideology that is in favour with them. When they campaign or when they are building a stadium, school, road etc they invite the media so that they can be seen positively. But when the media investigates them and find their corruption activities, they turn their backs and say bad things about the media. Last but not least, families also push their own ideologies for certain reasons. A member of a family will take responsibility of children, who have lost their parents within the family, for self benefits. Those children will be getting government support grants but will not know because they are not told. It has happened in my family and my cousin only found out that she is receiving grant support when she went to register a grant for her newly born daughter; she was told she had to cancel one grant between the two she was receiving. Elders within the families have dominant ideologies that are also due to the cultural belief they believe in.


In this research we looked at how the South African media promotes ideology, and how the said ideology has found practical expression in the media landscape (contemporary), is South Africa. According to USA researchers David Croteau and William Hoynes (Croteau and Hpynes, 2003:160) ideology is a system of meaning that helps explain the world and that makes value judgements about that world (South Africa in this case). We compared ideology against propaganda, where we explained and provided examples of contrasting views on this case.
We explained the two different theories of ideology (Neutral and Critical) where we looked at how they differ to each other. We expressed our own opinion to state the definition of critical ideology that we think finds resonance with us. Here we dwell much on the minority rule and how the dominant class has dominant ideologies.

But to everything, there should be a strategies or plans to resolve such ideologies. (Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney; Media Making, 1998; 394) says a strict, radical libertarian would argue that the media should be free to publish and broadcast what they wish, that sovereign, rational consumers should determine their fate. The government should have no role in the media, except perhaps to foster and encourage their economic success and to referee frequency allocation, as it does in broadcasting and cellular communications. (But then you look at how the media pushes the ideology of Protection of Information Bill, they are trying to hide the fact that journalists as well are negligent at times and that have a negative output in the country’s integrity)

Ideology as we have seen is not a system of ideas imposed from the outside. In the most exhaustive empirical study available on the sociology of news, Herbert Gans claims that journalists tend to identify ideology with political allegiances at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. That is, as “a deliberately thought-out, consistent, integrated and inflexible set of explicit political values, which is determinant on political decisions"

Such a class based analysis is not acceptable to all scholars. Adam and Giliomee, for example, contend that the neo-Marxist paradigm fails to adequately grasp the psychological aspects of ethnicity versus class. They argue that the proponents of exclusive class analysis tend to view apartheid "narrowly as a mere manipulative device for the oppression and control of labour" and conclude that the "role of ideology is frequently underestimated, if not altogether rejected"

Ideology is more powerful than propaganda. Both aspects may use persuasion but the one with the strongest power is ideology, that’s according to Lindokuhle Mnisi.


·         Media Making by Lawrence Grossberg, Ellen Wartella, D. Charles Whitney, 1998, Sage Publication.

·         Introducing Journalism and Media Studies, Editor Graham Greer, 2008, Juta.

·         Approaches to Media (A Reader), edited by Oliver Boyd-Barrett and Chris Newbold,

·         Media studies (Media history, media and society) 2nd edition Volume 1, edited by Pieter J Fourie, 2007, Juta publishers.

·         GOOGLE



·         Fleur and Dennis (1994:533-606)

·         Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836)


·         New Media (an introduction)  by Terry Flew, 3rd edition, 2008, oxford.


  1. Damn now that's a very well written piece about ideology. it's simple and focuses on the most key crucial elements that I needed for my assignment. Thanks a lot and I will surely put up the referencing and citation.

  2. Damn now that's a very well written piece about ideology. it's simple and focuses on the most key crucial elements that I needed for my assignment. Thanks a lot and I will surely put up the referencing and citation.

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