The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has led to unprecedented media coverage globally and in South Africa where, at the time of writing, over 20,000 people had died from the virus. This article explores how mainstream print media covered the COVID-19 pandemic during this time of crisis. The news media play a key role in keeping the public informed during such health crises and potentially shape citizens’ perceptions of the pandemic. Drawing on a content analysis of 681 front-page news stories across eleven English-language publications, we found that nearly half of the stories used an alarmist narrative, more than half of the stories had a negative tone, and most publications reported in an episodic rather than thematic manner. Most of the stories focused on impacts of the pandemic and included high levels of sensationalism. In addition, despite the alarmist and negative nature of the reporting, most of the front-page reports did not provide information about ways to limit the spread of the virus or attempt to counter misinformation about the pandemic, raising key issues about the roles and responsibilities of the South African media during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study shows that South African newspaper coverage of COVID-19 was largely negative, possibly to attract audience attention and increase market share, but that this alarmist coverage left little possibility for citizens’ individual agency and self-efficacy in navigating the pandemic.
Wasserman, H., Chuma, W., Bosch, T., Uzuegbunam, C. E., & Flynn, R. (2021). South African newspaper coverage of COVID-19: A content analysis. Journal of African Media Studies, 13(3), 333–350. https://doi.org/10.1386/jams_00052_1