January 31, 2021

The Online News Market in South Africa (2021)

New research from the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) and Code for Africa shows that more than half of the South African news sites in our market sample present a minimum-to-low risk of disinforming their online readers.

These findings are based on analysis of 35 English and Afrikaans-language media sites (See Figure 1), including some of the highest-traffic and most used sites in South Africa. 

Figure 1: Media sites assessed in South Africa (in alphabetical order)

Only three sites in this study received a minimum risk rating: fin24.com, news24.com and sabcnews.com (See Figure 2). They had near perfect scores in terms of content, and operational checks and balances. Both of these sites belong to the same media company, but other sites belonging to the same group did not score as highly.

An additional 15 sites were rated with a ‘low’ level of disinformation risk. These sites also score well overall for publishing non-sensational content, but lack a few critical operational checks and balances required for running an independent and accountable newsroom. 

The minimum and low risk sites represent 51% of the study.Significantly, this represents the largest share of minimum and low risk sites of the seven countries which GDI assessed in 2020. 

 Figure 2: Risk Ratings for South African Media Sites

Despite these positive findings, however, the rest of the market sample in South Africa largely presents high risks. While 20% of the sites were assessed as medium risk, a more concerning 28% of sites had high or maximum risks of disinformation.  

Seven sites received a high disinformation risk rating, while four sites had a maximum risk rating. These sites often publish biased content which creates an opportunity to manipulate audiences. These same sites publish stories not covered by other outlets—at times as exclusive investigative stories or in community-specific context—and publish in Afrikaans, with the potential to create informational asymmetries for certain groups in the country.

These findings and more are highlighted in our media market report for South Africa.

Figure 3: Average Pillar Score, by Risk Rating

The report applies the GDI methodology for assessing disinformation risk in three areas: the reliability of the site’s content, the site’s operational checks and balances, and how informed online readers perceive the overall context of the sites. 

The overall market risk score across the three pillars for South Africa is 60 (see Figure 3). South Africa is one of seven countries assessed in 2020 using this methodology, and scores higher than Germany, France, Latvia and Argentina. 

The report’s findings serve as a roadmap to address the risk areas that were found. Suggested measures include:

  • Establish policies that promote a newsroom’s operational and editorial integrity, as outlined by the Journalism Trust Initiative.
  • Share their membership of the South African Press Code visibly on site in order to increase levels of accountability and allow the user to stay on site for all pertinent information.
  • Ensure transparency around a site’s ownership and sources of funding to prevent any suspicions of conflicts of interest.
  • Publish a clear statement of editorial independence, guidelines for issuing corrections, and policies for user- and algorithmically-generated content.
  • Improve and make more visible a site’s correction practices for errors.
  • Ensure mobile interfaces make operational and editorial information easy to access as more South Africans access news this way.
  • Operational standards should include mobile-friendly, easily found transparent information as a way to rebuild reader trust.

GDI looks forward to working with news sites and media bodies in South Africa to advance these policies and other actions that will create a solid defense against disinformation risks.

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