South Africa: Mass media

Updated March 2020

Extracted from: Susan Booysen and Grant Masterson 2009 "Chapter 11: South Africa" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 414.

All public media communications in South Africa are regulated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa). Icasa is responsible for publishing a code of conduct for public broadcasts during an election period, and is also responsible for arbitrating and resolving disputes that occur regarding infringements of regulations governing the public media and electoral matters. Icasa is managed by a board of seven councillors, who are appointed by the president, in consultation with the National Assembly. Councillors may serve a maximum of two terms of five years.

2019 South African Elections: Radio journalists inside a broadcast booth at the IEC's Results Centre in Pretoria

According to the Icasa regulations, paid political campaign advertising and announcements during an election period must be submitted to Icasa 96 hours prior to airing or publication, and must conform to standards that do not contravene the constitution, Section 9 of the Electoral Code or the Broadcasting Act. If any party or person objects to the publication of a political party advertisement or announcement they may submit their complaint in writing to Icasa's Broadcasting Monitoring and Complaints Commission. Any materials deemed to be calculated or likely to incite unlawful, illegal or criminal actions or condoning such actions are prohibited. In order to ensure that the public media does not either deliberately or otherwise demonstrate bias towards a particular party, the Icasa regulations restrict each political party to four two-minute time slots per day on radio and television during the election period. In the event that a political party does not use the allocated time, normal scheduling will resume. These regulations were only introduced prior to the 2004 elections, and did not apply in 1994 or 1999 (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) Act). In 2009 for the first time political parties were afforded a limited amount of free electronic (television and radio) party advertisement broadcasting. It was, however, overwhelmingly only the well-resourced parties that could make use of this opportunity. The ANC, for example, had highly professional, well-produced advertisements to flight. New opposition party Cope, in contrast, could not mobilise the funding to have television advertisements produced, and could therefore not take up the offer of free television broadcasting. It only aired a series of single-message radio broadcasts three to four days before the election. Party-political resource constraints thus meant that this new opportunity widened the gulf between the party-political haves and have nots.

ICASA National and Provincial Elections Report 2019

According to ICASA's report on the 2019 National and Provincial Elections, of the 2787 Political Ads (PAs) monitored, 62 percent were from the DA, 35 percent from the ANC, 11 percent from the EFF and 10 percent from the FF+. ACDP, Forum 4 Service Delivery, IFP and GOOD each accounted for less than 1 percent. The report also stated that the majority of the political parties contesting could not afford to have their political advertising broadcast thus "demonstrating the fact that that the system of PAs favours political parties with significant advertising budgets."


On 8 March 2011 ICASA published regulations governing the media during the 2011 local government elections.

Official website

Independent Communications Authority of South Africa: [www] (accessed 13 Mar 2020).

See also South Africa: News websites.


Electronic Communications Act: Regulations: Party election broadcasts, political advertisements, equitable treatment of political parties by broadcasting licensees and related matters.

INDEPENDENT COMMUNICATIONS AUTHORITY OF SOUTH AFRICA (ICASA) ACT No. 13 of 2000, as amended by the Broadcasting Amendment Act No. 64 of 2002, [www] (accessed 13 March 2020).

ICASA National and Provincial Elections Report 2019