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Our media has a long history of activism and reporting on things that our various governments would prefer to conceal. Freedom of speech and a free press are enshrined in our constitution and South Africans have a tendency to take this privilege for granted.  But we are one of few countries on this and other continents where the media enjoys this degree of freedom and it is why there has been such indignation over the government’s attempts to pass the so called “Secrecy Bill”. 

 South Africans have an interesting relationship with the media. There is a great deal of whinging about how the media only reports on bad news but futurefact finds that the public has a lot more confidence in our media than it does in our political parties or most of our politicians and relies on the media to keep them informed about all their depressingly nefarious deeds – indeed 83% felt that “It is the duty of the media to expose corruption among politicians and business people”. 

Focusing on levels of confidence, here are some interesting comparisons which clearly highlight that journalists and the media generally enjoy the confidence of South Africans. It also shows that we have a lot of faith in institutions that protect the constitution like the Constitutional Court or Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. And, we like the fact that comedians such as Loyiso Gola, Nic Rabinowitz, Trevor Noah and cartoonist Zapiro play an important role as political commentators who are able to highlight  otherwise sensitive racial and political issues. 

76% have confidence in our journalists. However, this is not unequivocal as only 23% have complete confidence and 53% some confidence. This means that journalists must tread lightly and not assume that South Africans are gullible enough to swallow everything they read or hear:  8 out of 10 agreed (half of them a lot) that journalists often harm people’s reputations because they don’t check their information sufficiently.  

The level of public confidence in the media (plus the looming “Secrecy Bill”) place a huge responsibility upon journalists and their bosses to be sure of their facts before broadcasting their stories.   

The media enjoys the confidence of the public in its ‘watch-dog’ role and it is imperative that journalists value and respect their trust – it is a very fragile thing and much harder to rebuild than break down. 

 futurefact has been surveying the attitudes and beliefs of South Africans since 1998. The findings presented above are from futurefact 2013 which is based on a probability sample of 3,025 adults aged 15 years and over, living in communities of more than 500 people throughout South Africa representing 21.6 million adults.  

 If you would like to find out more about futurefact and its extensive attitudinal databases please contact Jos Kuper 082 904 9939 or check out www.futurefact.co.za