Media coverage of the “problems” associated with alcohol is widespread in countries of the Global North and now, increasingly, in those of the Global South. However, despite this mounting ubiquity, there have been very few analyses either of newspaper coverage of alcohol or media coverage of alcohol policy, especially outside Europe or North America. This paper argues that, given international concern with the long-term health, economic, social and developmental consequences of risky drinking in the Global South, an exploration of newspaper coverage of nascent alcohol policy in such a context is both timely and valuable. This is not least as such analyses bring to the fore the deeply contextual and contingent nature of alcohol’s problematisation in politics, policy and public life. To examine these assertions, we explore the ‘attention allocation’ processes of two South African alcohol control policies – the Western Cape Liquor Bill and the City of Cape Town’s liquor by-laws –in two regional, English-language newspapers over a four year period between 2007 and 2011. In so doing, the paper highlights the particularities of the political valence of alcohol in the South African context. Furthermore, it also draws out the tensions between alcohol as a source of livelihoods in a context of endemic unemployment and chronic poverty and alcohol as a causal factor in poverty, crime, violence and social disintegration. And, in contrast to media coverage of alcohol policy in Europe and North America, this analysis of the South African press suggests that liquor consumption is far less likely to be framed as an express health risk, forcing us to question how best preventative policy efforts should best proceed.
Lawhon, M.; Herrick, C. Alcohol control in the news : the politics of media representations of alcohol policy in South Africa. (2013) 33 pp.