Just whose budget is this? A brief review of how some of our mass media reported the 2010 Budget Speech.
As expected, today’s media are filled with budget analyses, special reports, programmes and inserts and they have done well in seeking to simplify and make interesting an issue that is about a budget. While extensive, however, coverage tends to be biased in favour of big business.
It is common for most of the newspapers to use graphics and offer summaries of what they consider to be the key elements of the budget. So we have images of ambulances or medicine bottles for health, or in the case of the Daily Sun, a rather svelte looking nurse wheeling a drip or similar medical device. It would seem the use of the graphics is there to help point readers to their immediate area of interest as well as to break up the text heavy material. Either way, the summaries are useful to get an overview of the “big issues” for budget 2010.
Another common trend in reporting the budget has been for media to personalise the impact by using vox pops, for example, interviewing a family who survives on the child grant and asking how the increase will affect them. Other media, such as Business Day, have gone for extensive in depth expert budget analysis.
General opinion of the budget appears positive with few media reporting on a protest by a group of women outside parliament as well as Cosatu’s mixed reaction.
All well and fine, and on some level it would be tempting to say that the media like the Minister of Finance, have managed to juggle the coverage in such a way that all aspects are covered. This may well be the case for big business and for some of the middle class readers who have been provided with more detailed information on how the budget will impact their personal income. The concern, however, is that there are some big questions which have not been addressed.
Issues around gender, gender-based violence and children’s issues have been largely ignored, possibly because they aren’t clearly centralised in the government’s priority areas on which the budget has been based. That said, the majority of sources and experts who comment on the budget have been from the financial and business sector, and for the most part have been men. Clearly business-oriented voices are crucial to the issues but their dominance has virtually silenced other key issues and perspectives that need to be addressed.
It is telling that the Minister’s speech refers extensively in the beginning and conclusion to the importance of children and our future, yet in one of the few actual budgetary references to them he states, “The child support grant increases by R10 to R250 a month. We recognise that the increase in the child support grant is slightly below the inflation rate, but the social benefit and the cost of bringing in two million more children implies that we have to adjust this grant more moderately.”
A cynic may interpret this as children being good for speeches but when it comes down to it, business will be put before children. (Yes I know the biggest budget item is for Education which is largely child focused, but if children and families cannot eat or are hungry so they cannot concentrate at school, all the money in the world for education won’t make a toffee of a difference. This point was alluded to in a piece in The Star about the budget for education).
The point for media is that while they did a good job in personalising the impact the grant will have on a family, with stories indicating that some will be happy to have an extra ten rand per month, the reality, because the increase is lower than inflation, is that it will buy them less and they will be in an even worse position next year.
A good piece in The Star highlights the potential positive impact of the additional funding for Antiretroviral Treatment for women and children. Sadly such pieces are the exception, with views on how the budget will impact different groups of people differently largely absent. Perspectives of unions beyond the Cosatu critique, of gender organisations, children’s organisations, environmentalists, poverty groups and local communities would not only make the coverage more diverse and interesting, it would also ensure that people get a fuller picture of the impact of the budget for South Africa beyond the immediate personal and business interests.
Media Monitoring Africa