Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
DE WET, Corene. Volksblad's portrayal of school violence in the Free State. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.3, pp.452-468. ISSN 2224-7912. http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/2224-7912/2015/V55N3A9.
INTRODUCTION: Researchers, policy makers and the South African community's increasing interest in school violence since the beginning of the 21st century can amongst others be ascribed to the news media's coverage of high-profile, extremely violent incidents of violence at schools. The news media's role in democracies is, amongst other things, to inform the public about social problems such as school violence. The news media may not exert a direct and instant influence on public opinion. Nonetheless, research has shown that news coverage of social and political issues may have a wide range of subtle, but powerful effects on what the public think about these issues. Well informed citizens, with knowledge of social and political issues may be able to take part in public debates and make informed decisions. The news media may have an influence on individuals' choices and decisions, as well as their willingness to become involved in social problems. In democratic countries the news media are expected to play a responsible role of watchdog for the public interest. However, researchers found that privately owned news media have a dual role, namely to act as watchdog for the public interest and as guardian of their own financial interests. The way in which the news media report about school violence is consequently often determined by striving towards higher circulation figures. The aim of this article is to report on an investigation about Volksblad's coverage of school violence in the Free State. This daily paper has the highest circulation figure of all papers in the Free State. The study is directed at the following problem question: How does Volksblad portray school violence in the Free State? The study is grounded in social constructivism insofar as it has bearing on the role of the news media in the declaration of school violence as a social problem METHODOLOGY: Qualitative content analysis was used to analyse the newspaper reports, letters to the press and editorial commentaries. The corpus of texts selected for an analysis of this study has appeared in Volksblad over a period of five years (1 January 2009 to 31 December 2013). The texts were identified by means of the SA Media data basis (http://www.samedia.uovs.ac.za/) on 14 April 2014. With the help of key words, the computer search produced 44 items FINDINGS: The main findings of the study are: (1) Volksblad portrays school violence as a serious problem in the Free State: Free State educators and learners are victims of emotional, sexual and physical violence, which is on the increase, and may even be out of control. The latter means learners' and/or educators' behaviour that can affect learners and/or educators is unrestrained, unmanaged, without limits or monitoring, not subject to influence or manipulation within the control of the school, resulting in an unpredictable and chaotic school enviornment. (2) According to Volksblad, some school principals and role-players question the newspaper's portrayal of violence at their schools: By giving voice to learners, parents and principals the impression is created that some role-players regard school violence neither as a problem nor out of control. These views are aligned with detailed information published in the Volksblad about specific incidents of violence. Furthermore, the normalisation of school violence is juxtaposed with statements by parents and principals who are concerned about the levels of violence at the Free State schools referred to in the analysed newspaper articles. The suggestion is therefore left amongst readers that some principals live in denial about what is happening at their respective schools and/or do not want to assume responsibility for violence at their schools. (3) Sensational reporting of some incidents of school violence illustrates the dual role of privately owned news media in a democracy, namely to inform the public and to look after the interests of their owners and shareholders. Despite criticism by principals and other role-players about the way in which the paper reported on school violence and accusations by some that incidents were blown up out of all proportion, Volksblad informs readers about the seriousness of school violence. This finding particularly comes to the fore in the ombudsman of the newspaper's reaction to letters to the press to the effect that the paper sensationalises fighting amongst learners CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: Volksblad's portrayal of school violence as a serious problem in the Free State, corresponds with research findings about the scope of school violence in the province. By creating an awareness of the nature and extent of school violence Volksblad may inadvertently motivate organisations with an interest in education, such as government, family and the broader community, as well as commerce and industry, to take a stand against school violence. By making society aware of school violence, newspapers such as Volksblad often play a more important role than research publications. This privately owned newspaper virtually has a monopoly in the province. It is therefore important that Volksblad maintains a balance between generating income and informing the public about a social wrong such as school violence. Well informed citizens, with knowledge of school violence may be able to take part in public debates and make informed decisions. Even though sensationalism may heighten public interest in school violence, responsible reporting should remain the norm. Journalists should be guided by the South African Press Code. However, it is also important that school principals in particular would regard the news media as a partner in their struggle against school violence, rather than the enemy that is bent on slating the image of the school. Champions for school safety, such as educators, parents, community leaders, provincial and national departments of education, South African Police Services, psychologists and academics, must work towards the acceptance and implementation of school safety policies at national, provincial and school level.
Keywords : media analysis; school violence; social constructivism; South Africa; Volksblad.