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News Analysis

The Marikana mining strike and massacre grabbed large scale media attention in August last year (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19848915.).  The saga is said to have begun on August 10 where 3000 workers walked off the job and went on a march.  Between the 12th and 14th approximately nine people were killed in the area around Marikana (http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/cops-killed-as-conflict-spirals-at-lonmin-1.1361862#.UUwGtRdqng0.)(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19245758.). On the 16th police opened fire where 34 miners were killed, 78 injured and 270 workers arrested. On September 20 miners finally returned to work (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-20218828.). In this analysis I will look at the ways in which three different sources have reported on the events of the 16th as they unfolded.

My first article is called “Miners killed at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana mine”, by BBC News World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-19286654.).  It came out on August 16, so can be seen as newsworthy information as it was fresh to the public on that day. It outlines the event in terms of the violence and deaths that occurred, using mostly quotes to explain. It is aimed at an international audience, as the article can be found under a tab called ‘Africa’. It is also aimed at national and local business and finance orientated readers as it mentions the financial losses that Lonmin suffered because of the protest. The article makes use of eye witness accounts, news agency spokes persons, the president’s words and that of Lonmin, instead of just one source. What I find problematic nonetheless is that no miners’ voices are heard in the piece.

Framing is a term that describes the choosing of an angle when writing a news story, which guides the reader’s interpretation (Scheufele, 2007). This article does not choose to frame either the police or miners in a favourable light. Let’s look more closely at some of the text. The article begins by explaining “police opened fire after miners carrying machetes, clubs and spears refused to disarm”. Later we have “police tried in vain”, “…missiles were thrown at police, who responded by opening fire”. Here police action seems to be justified, as miners are described as aggressive and armed. However, another witness says, “police had first used tear gas in an attempt to disperse miners” and “…threatened them with water from the water cannon, fired tear gas and stun grenades”. This implies that police initiated the violence. The heading to the second part of the article is written in inverted commas, perhaps suggesting some criticism of the term ‘illegal gatherings’. It explains that the police defended their actions, and that spokesman Zweli Mnisi said that “to protest is a legal and constitutional right of any citizen,”  “However, these rights do not imply that people should be barbaric, intimidating and hold illegal gatherings”. These utterances seek to justify police action, and convey a very accusatory tone towards the miners. The reporter of the article seems to be using them in order to make a point about police justification.   The article mentions the outrage over the way in which the incident was dealt with, reminiscent of apartheid, throwing light on the police as brutal and unjustified in their actions.  Ultimately neither the police nor miners are framed favourably, with the whole incident being described as a ‘clash’ between two aggressive parties.

There is no photograph at the top of the article, but rather a video that shows the shooting from behind police lines. This video shows miners running towards police, who then shoot and kill some of them. It is graphic and shocking.  There is one smaller photo further down, which shows police and paramedics helping injured people, which perhaps make police look more benevolent than the video. This article is objective as it shows two possible sides to a complex story, choosing not to elevate one party’s actions over the other.

Article two is called “Nehawu: Marikana killings ‘senseless’” on Fin24 (http://www.fin24.com/Companies/Mining/Nehawu-Marikana-killings-senseless-20120817.).  This is a business minded news site; therefore its readers are likely to be interested in a large scale protest that affects the production of a major company such as the Lonmin one, which in turn affects the stock market. It can be considered news worthy information as it came out the day after the fatal incident. It is about people (the miners and police), it is dramatic in content as it talks about the terrible violence that occurred. All of this makes the story valued as news.

This article mainly makes use of the Nehawu’s Sizwe Pamela’s feelings of disgust at the way in which the incident was handled by authorities.  It does not give any miners or the SAPS a voice, perhaps in an attempt to avoid accounts that are too subjective.  It chooses to include only sources that condemn the action of the police and who disapprove of the way that wage disputes have been dealt with by mining executives and union leaders, holding them accountable for the miners resorting to aggression. Pamela speaks of police as using ‘apartheid tactics’. The Black Business Council describes the shooting as a “bloodbath”. Pamela speaks about the exploitation of miners by the mining companies and how they have been allowed to “get away with murder” for too long. The article also highlights allegations of police tampering with evidence. The Police are heavily criticised for their choice of weapons capable of killing.  I believe that this article frames the miners as victims and the police as unacceptably brutal. The article does not have a photograph, so relies only on its content to portray the sense of tragedy and horror that the incident invokes. It is framed in a specific way and therefore cannot be seen as objective reporting.

Article three is entitled “The guns of Marikana” by City Press (http://www.citypress.co.za/news/the-guns-of-marikana-20120818/.).   It was written on August 18, so it contains newsworthy information. The article describes the way that miners prepared for the strike with ‘mhuti’ and rituals which were supposed to make them invincible. It also exposes the violent way in which they dealt with those not adhering to their orders to join in the protest, and explains the brutal way these people were murdered. It is a blow by blow account by a witnessing journalist, and does not incorporate anybody’s opinion, or alternative witnesses. This site is aimed at black South Africans, therefore labour disputes are likely to interest this audience.

The article insinuates that the police tried in vain to disband the protesters and that a protester fired at police first. The police are therefore shown in a good light, the shooting seen as something that occurred as a last resort; miners “turned towards the police near a cattle kraal, charging with spears, pangas and sticks. One man was seen firing at the police”. The article also refers to the protesters as ‘warriors’ which makes them seem scary and also tribal and irrational. It also questions why protesters ran at police when they were clearly vulnerable, and speculates that perhaps they really thought they were invincible.

The article utilises a map which outlines how the events took place and where. The map helps to illustrate the article’s point that police only opened fire because they were first charged at by miners with weapons. In a text box to the left of the map are the stages that allegedly occurred, how the police first tried to disperse protesters with water cannons, and shot at them with rubber bullets, and only later with actual bullets.  We can safely say therefore that the framing favours the police action as necessary and justifiable, and the miners as unnecessarily violent and having provoked the incident, making this article subjective.

Words excluding citations, heading and reference list: 1254

Reference List

BBC News World, 2012.  Miners killed at South Africa’s Lonmin Marikana mine. [Online]. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-19286654 [Accessed 28 March 2013].

City Press, 2012. The guns of Marikana. [Online]. Available at http://www.citypress.co.za/news/the-guns-of-marikana-20120818/ [Accessed 29 March 2013].

Fin24, 2012. Nehawu: Marikana killings ‘senseless’. [Online]. Available at http://www.fin24.com/Companies/Mining/Nehawu-Marikana-killings-senseless-20120817 [Accessed 28 March 2013].

Scheufele, Dietram A. & David Tewksbury, 2007. Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models. Journal of Communication 57: 9-20.

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