On the morning of 8 May 2018 I shared the meme below on a Facebook Group highlighting how the media reacted to the Spur incident in 2017, compared to the recent assault on a pregnant woman. Granted, the meme is an over simplification of both incidents but nevertheless brings home an important issue in the current South African context and that is the double standard evident in how our media are reporting on incidents like these.
For those that don’t know what happened in the Pregnant Women incident, see the video below:
Many disagreed with the meme and I therefore decided to do a little experiment to demonstrate how the SA media reports on incidents like these. I did a Google search for the “Spur racial incident or attack” and for “pregnant women assault Featherbrooke village” (I included the Featherbrooke village part so that I don’t get search results for pregnant women assaults in general) and I then noted the number of results found in Google.
Disclaimer – I fully realize that such an approach is not perfect as it depends on the exact search terms used, the location parameters set and the date ranges etc. The idea however was not to undertake scientific research but to get a general idea of what was reported and the frequency thereof. I tried to be as consistent as possible when doing the searches so as to use the same parameters for both incidents, however when I subsequently repeated the searches, I sometimes got differing results, but even when looking at these differences the disproportionate reporting between the two incidents was still clearly evident.
I first did a search for the “Spur racial incident or attack” and Google returned 306 000 results. I then did a search for “pregnant women assault Featherbrooke village” and only 9 030 results popped up.
Some people rightly pointed out on Facebook that the incident with the pregnant women only happened recently so it’s unfair to compare its total news coverage with that of the Spur incident that happened in 2017. So, to even the playing field I tried the following – The Spur incident happened on the 19 March 2017 and hit the news on 21 March 2017. So, I did two Google searches, one for the period 21/22 March 2017 and found 103 results on the Spur incident for the said two days and for the period of 21 – 28 March 2017 I found 180 results for the seven-day period.
The pregnant women assault incident happened on 25 April 2018 but only hit the news on 1 May 2018. So, I again did two Google searches one for the period 1/2 May 2018, and found only 4 results on the pregnant women assault incident for the said two days and for the period of 1 to 8 May 2018 I found only 50 results for the seven-day period. The Spur incident within 2 days garnered 25 times more news coverage than the pregnant women incident and nearly 4 times as much coverage over a period of one week.
I did a few further searches thereafter for both incidents for a period longer than just one week and up to one month after each incident, and it was clear that whereas the Spur incident exploded in terms of its media coverage (picking up to over 3 000 search results), the reporting on the pregnant women incident barely registered any increased coverage staying around +/- 100 search results.
Glaring also was the absence of reporting (at least until the morning 9 May 2018) of the pregnant women incident in some of our media and comparing how many times other media houses reported on both incidents. I found 8 160 results when I checked how many times the Daily Maverick either reported on the Spur incident or was quoted for reporting on it but no results for the Daily Maverick for the pregnant women incident by the 9th. Similarly, I found 15 500 results for News24 for the Spur incident but only 459 such results for the pregnant women assault. I found 32 000 results for the Spur incident referencing City Press but none such for the pregnant women incident. For the Huffington Post I found a staggering 60 900 results for the Spur incident when I checked how many times the Huffington Post either reported on the Spur incident or was quoted for reporting on it, but only 1 for the pregnant women assault to date and that’s when cartoonist Jerm commented on the matter on his Facebook page somehow referencing the Huffington Post.
When one compares the headlines used when reporting the two incidents some glaring differences also comes to the fore. For the Spur incident – “Spur Racial Attack (EWN)”, Spur bowed to racist pressure (Huffington Post)”, “Spur Group probing racism claim (IOL)”, “Spur blamed for condoning racism (The South African)”, “How a right wing boycott has lost Spur Millions (Daily Maverick)”, “What the Spur boycott has taught black women (Women24)”, “Spur apologizes to SA for racial spat”, “Spur people – with a taste for white male violence (The Daily Vox)” etc. Compare that to the language used when reporting on the pregnant women incident – “CEO suspended after assaulting pregnant women (Times Live)”, “Man opens case of crimen injuria against assaulted pregnant women (Citizen)” with most other media articles following more or less the same headlines. It’s easy to spot the differences in the way the two incidents were reported in the media.
Lastly, I looked at how the two incidents were reported upon from a race perspective in the leading paragraphs of such news articles. From the Mail and Guardian (22 March 2017) reporting on the Spur incident – “Footage of a white man threatening a black woman at Spur’s branch in the Glen shopping mall has gone viral this week and has been greeted with outrage across the country.” versus the first paragraph from the Times Live (8 May 2018) “A man caught on CCTV footage assaulting a pregnant woman at Featherbrooke Village Mall in Ruimsig west of Johannesburg has been suspended as chief executive officer of Novare Consultants with immediate effect.” Note how for the one incident the race of both the alleged perpetrator and victim is clearly highlighted, whereas for the second incident not a word about the race of either the alleged perpetrator or victim. I found this to be the overall general trend in how these two incidents were reported in the media.
Renaldo Gouws in a video on his YouTube channel (copied below) asked the same questions and why people are hardly aware of the pregnant women incident and why there was no major outrage –
The above results although not scientific, raises serious questions as to the motives of the media when reporting on incidents involving different race groups. Why the double standards and lack of equal treatment?
The same double standards were pointed out in a report compiled by the Solidarity Research Institute in 2017 (see the following links for more information):
- How the response to black and white racism differs – Solidarity
- Racism, hate speech and double standards
In conclusion I wonder what the results would be, if somebody better equipped than me, do a similar comparison of the coverage of the two incidents on social media and the language used in these interactions?
Postscript – As I was writing this post the Ashwim Willemse incident where he walked out of the Supersport studio made main headlines news. For those that’s not familiar with what happened see the following video wherein Renaldo Gouws gives his own views on the incident –
Just for interest sake I did a Google search on “Ashwin Willemse Supersport Mallet” limited to 19/20 May 2018 and was startled to find 3 090 results. So an incident where a women is assaulted only resulted in 4 Google search results in two days, compared to 3 090 results for an incident in which nobody was assaulted?