Over the last year members of the Mellon Media & Citizenship project have been involved in various ways in a SANPAD funded project investigating the relationship between youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. This ground-breaking research provides some interesting findings about the way in which young people use the media, their relationship with politics and political activity, and the way that the media shape their political and civic identities.
Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the aim of the study was to investigate the way in which the media shape youth identity, both political and civic, and whether the media reflect the voices of the youth. An extensive survey with close to 1000 young people in South Africa, as well as a content analysis of South African media, focus groups with young people across a range of settings, and document analysis were all carried out by researchers across South Africa who contributed to the report.
Perhaps the most significant results are the fact that while most young people consume news media and use the news media in their daily lives, they do not find the content relevant to them or their situations. Trust across the media was significantly high, but trust in politics and political institutions was significantly low. There is an interesting (perhaps contradictory) relationship between the use of media, and trust in the media, but a sense from young people that it does not actually talk to their lives and their contexts.
What is clear from the results is the fact that young people feel they are not being heard or spoken to by either the news media or political stakeholders. Both the media and political stakeholders (including policy makers, civil society, NGO’s, political organisations and policy advocates) should use this research as a means to better understand how they can engage with young South Africans in a more meaningful and participatory way.