Western Media Bias in Coverage of Contested Elections

By Gowans

While elections that bring populists and reformers to power are often contested as fraudulent by Western-backed opposition coalitions which receive favourable and substantial coverage in the Western media, when pro-foreign investment parties come to power in disputed elections, the event barely merits a footnote in the back pages of Western newspapers.

The latest example of the almost complete Western media silence on contested elections that pro-foreign investment parties win, can be found in the October 30 election of Rupiah Banda as president of Zambia.

Banda’s election has been “welcomed by foreign leaders and investors who praise his government’s conservative fiscal policies.”

By contrast, opposition leader Michael Sata, “a populist with strong support among workers and the poor,” has raised concerns among foreign investors by “the strident anti-investment tone of his last campaign for the presidency in 2006.”

Sata, who leads the Patriotic Front, “branded the election a fraud” after a late surge of votes erased his lead. The Patriotic Front noted “discrepancies between vote tallies and the number of voters on registration lists.”

In the former Yugoslavia, Belarus and Zimbabwe, elections which have brought, or have threatened to bring, leaders to power who are not prepared to welcome Western exports and investments on entirely favourable terms and without restriction, have been denounced as unfair before the first ballot is cast.

When this happens, the Western media routinely provide the pro-investment opposition wide and sympathetic coverage.

In what little Western media coverage the Patriotic Front has received, Sata’s charges of electoral fraud have been treated as the whining of a poor loser.

According to the official tally, Banda won 40 percent of the 1.79 million votes cast, versus 38 percent for the leader of the Patriotic Front.

It’s unclear whether Banda’s election victory was fraudulent, but the double standard evident in Western media coverage of contested elections evinces an institutional bias consistent with the view that media coverage reflects the class interests of its owners.

Were Sata the comprador champion of foreign investment and Banda the populist backed by working people and the poor, we would have expected visible and sympathetic coverage of the opposition’s complaint that the election had been stolen.

“Zambia opposition to contest Banda election, Reuters, November 2, 2008.
“Zambia swears in a new president,” Reuters, November 3, 2008.

One thought on “Western Media Bias in Coverage of Contested Elections

  1. I have to say I was extremely disappointed in the BBC and it’s coverage of the Zimbabwe situation. Slowly, they seemed to have replaced oldfashioned journalists (the late Charles Wheeler, Robin Denslow), with either local South Africans (Grant Ferret, Chris McGreal) or complete hacks who seem to have walked right out of fleetstreet and have no clue about African history.

    The same media that brought us the war in Iraq, has brought us the villification of Robert Mugabe. We have even seen the likes of John Simpson doing a ‘Donald Woods’ and crawling into the boot of a car, to be driven into Zimbabwe and interview Morgan Tsvangirai. The difference of course was that Woods tried to break OUT of a repressive country, not break into one allegedly repressive country. No one explained why, if Simpson could not get into Zimbabwe, he could not simply interview Tsvangirai in South Africa, or even the UK, as unlike anyone belonging to the ANC, was free to travel anywhere in the world, let alone stand for parliament.

    I also missed the presence of anyone giving the ANC’s point of view on the BBC during the apartheid years. How odd that the only view we hear from Zimbabwe now, is from the allegedly oppressed opposition.

    During the apartheid years, the point of view of Apartheid was always represented in discussions(usually from some Conservative Party shill like William Waldegrave), but today there is an absolute absence of the Zimbabwean government’s point of view.

    Doesn’t it seem like the BBC is always giving the point of view of the landowners, and will never give the point of view of the freedom fighters?

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