Is Global Media Africa’s Enemy?

I welcome you to discuss this with me, because I think not. Please comment and share this post.

There is this emerging trend where international news organisations are being perceived as enemies in Africa. It may have always been so, but such perceptions are being further amplified on platforms such as blogs, social networks.

Last week, I came across an interesting article by Femke, a Dutch journalist currently residing in Nigeria. In this article, she wrote about the underwhelming scamming talent of Nigerians, the nation against which the official title for online scamming has been named – the Nigerian Prince. There is even a movie on it – 419: The Nigerian Scam (2008). I was impressed at how she demonstrated the principle of balance (albeit that this wasn’t a news report). Here is an excerpt:

Before coming to this country for the very first time, I religiously studied all known strategies of fraud and deceit. Nigeria is the kingdom of deception, I had been told…Determined not to get scammed, I prepared myself for the worst. I was not going to be one of those gullible oyinbos…How disappointed I was once I arrived in Nigeria!

This same Femke wrote another article on how she tried to cover good story out of Nigeria for her Dutch media house (I use good for want of a better expression). It was meant to be a story that captured an average Nigerian’s thirst for good news – Nigeria had won the African Cup of Nations – at last something to smile about. When she pitched the story abroad, here was the response:

“We decided to drop the item about the Africa Cup,’ he informed me. ‘We are going with news from the US. But should there be riots, then we would like to call you anyway.”

The most recent example out of Africa is how the coverage of the presidential elections in Kenya has been been handled by international news organisations. How would you rate their coverage? Please discuss in the comments.
CNN released a report on the elections that generated a wave of controversy, especially on social network sites like Twitter. It looks like the video has been taken down at the moment, but here are some reactions from Twitter (that can’t be taken down unfortunately):
Search  “Kenya” + “CNN” on Twitter to find more examples. 
Moving on. 
Quick recap: Is Africa just thirsty for good news where there is none, or Africa is asking for (near) accurate coverage of her good news where she spews one?
Jon Gambrell, Associated Press journalist in Nigeria dropped a Tweet I munched ages ago – for a day like today. He said: [see pic below]
Jon Gambrell, AP Correspondent, Nigeria

Jon Gambrell, AP Correspondent, Nigeria

The journalist is to tell the truth – what is the Truth? I reckon philosophers would have a field-day giving us ideas. 
There is tension that needs to be negotiated in serving the truth – it revolves around how the truth is framed, constructed etc. nevertheless, still the truth – fact.

Media Junkie’s Stand:
To successfully navigate the tension between the expectations of Africans and the journalist doing his job, it would take a lot more than engaging the simplistic binary lines of good and bad news.There is more at play in how a reporter writes and frames his story than mere personal intent to, may I say, cause harm.
In fact, I don’t think any journalist picks his camera, note pad and pen with the sole sordid intent to bad-mouth a nation. They are not the enemy, but there is an enemy quite alright. 
I will try to explain my position without going all academic + wire-rimmed glasses on you. However, I will need to refer to a few materials to lend me some credibility. 
The three primary functions of the media are to: inform, educate and entertain. 
In informing, they report the truth as they perceive it, and serve to the audience 
In educating, they provide analysis of the news events
In entertaining, well, they entertain you – films, soaps etc. 
In between performing all these functions, the media frames reality, constructs reality – this is not to say that they speak untruths, but how the truth is told is shaped by certain factors (often outside the control of the individual journalists). 
To discuss these factors, I need to borrow from Herman & Chomsky’s (2002) Propaganda model for the political economy of the media. They argue that there is an intermeshed relationship between the mass media, government and market forces – such that what the journalists do, what they perceive as news worthy and what they kick to the curbs (as not news-worthy) are affected by factors (news filters) such as:
The size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, profit-orientation of the dominant news organisation
The advertising man’s dollar – a major income source for media organisations
The reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, ‘experts’ etc. as worthy sources etc. to mention a few
These news filters that result in perhaps the kind of complaints Africans now level against global media organisations often occur:
 ‘so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret news ‘objectively’ and on the basis of professional news values’ (Herman and Chomsky 2002, 2). 
This dissatisfaction surrounding how the West reports Africa is not a new tale. There was the NWICO debate (New World Information and Communication Order), a conceptual framework that attempted to address the imbalance and inequalities in global communication. This debate and the issues therein formed a significant part of the Macbride Report of 1980 – story for another day.
To summarise my point, international news organisations are NOT the enemy – and the journalist doing his job certainly isn’t.
The enemy is the system – the ‘professional blanket‘ that defines what is news and what isn’t – the system that drives the idea that revenue is king, contrary to noble ideals such as building development, promoting democracy etc. 
However, new media tools are offering avenues to subvert that system. I am of the opinion that if you shout loud enough online, to tell you own story, the global news frame becomes less important.
I was inspired with how Kenyans told their story through the social networks sites during this recently passed presidential elections.  Kenya Elections trended worldwide – the people told their story. I was able to be privy to two-sides-of-the-coin unlike when I would rely on CNN to know what was going on in my neighbouring African country. I was more informed, educated, and able to frame my narrative of the elections with less influence from external factors. I wrote my story of Kenya’s election – for once I made my own reality. 
What do you say? Is global media Africa’s enemy?

 Media Junkie

Additional Resources:
How to write about Africa – Granta
How not to Write About Africa – Guardian UK
The British Press & the Nigerian Civil War  – Diary of a Media Junkie 
politial economy of the media
Herman & Chomsky (2002) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (amazon)
Ekeanyanwu, N. (2005) International Communication: Issues, Concepts and Researches in the 21st Century. Lagos: Standard Mass Concept
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4 thoughts on “Is Global Media Africa’s Enemy?

  1. Nelson says:

    Brilliant article (as always)

    In fact, I don’t think any journalist picks his camera, note pad and pen with the sole sordid intent to bad-mouth a nation. They are not the enemy, but there is an enemy quite alright.

    Actually from my years of listening to various news media, I think some journalists are.

    I want to pick an example from the just concluded Kenyan elections. Some International news media frowned on the fact that Kenyan media “self censored” themselves. Are they ethical issues with self censorship? Yes. Did it work in the Kenyan context? I’m sure it did.

    Femke’s recent example of how her story on Nigeria’s cup success was jettisoned gives us a good idea of how some people high up the ladder prefer to get “negative news” from Nigeria. Cue Oxfam’s thoughts of how Africa is being potrayed.

    My take is that global media is not Africa’s enemy but they aren’t particularly best of friends either.

  2. feathersproject says:

    I enjoyed your write up – vacillating between academic and opinion-able. I must admit it is not easy to achieve this type of balance.

    However, I agree and disagree with you. I agree because the journalist – foreign or local – does not create news. Rather they only report based on what they see, hear and observe. If situation in the continent were near normal then it might take a miracle worker to spin the news. Many times I have also noticed that Nigerians, in particular, can curse and castigate their country but will dare not take that from an outsider. Our patriotism, is of the unusual type.

    Nonetheless, a journalist, though a servant of the truth also decides how to present the truth. Media framing studies have shown that the media provides ‘windows’ through which audiences perceive and interpret reality. The way and manner they spin news, highlight or suppress salient frames depends on the variety of factors – ideology, ownership and bias. Journalists might try to be balanced but cannot be neutral. They carry in their world-views and the agenda of their employers into the way and manner they present news. I must say that the Kenyan elections is a point in case, where an isolated incident was blown out of proportion and almost clouded the great success of their elections. Who will blame Kenyan’s if they shout about CNN’s single story?

    All the same I enjoyed the piece. Very balanced, critical and with a touch of class. *no washing!

    • Tee says:

      Hi Feathers Project,

      Thanks for reading this post and your kind comment.

      You have made two solid points I can’t but agree with. First, that if the situation in Nigeria and Africa as a whole were near normal, spinning the news would be an Herculean task.

      This is so true. Imagine how in the midst of the complaints about how global media cover Nigeria for instance, Ansaru (terrorist group) went on to slay 7 hostages (from different nationalities). According to theory of news values, that is NEWS, and there is no easy way to portray that in ‘good light’. It’s the truth and it has to be told (no matter the frame the journalist employs to tell the story).

      Your second point, which I also agree with, is the ‘unusual patriotism’ of Nigerians. I have witnessed this severally on Twitter especially. All a Ghanian has to do is make a little mockery of Nigeria (on the same issue Nigerians have been mocking themselves) and boom, “national tweet-fight” begins. Somewhere deep down, I do believe that even in all that ‘fight’ there is love among them. It’s like rivalling siblings that would combine power to fight the (outside) neighbours if they dare step on the toes of any member of the family. I digress.

      However, I understand that some people at the top-end of the ladder thirst for bad-news out of Africa. To me, they still aren’t the enemy. They are ‘slaves’ to the system themselves. There is revenue generation to consider. People won’t tune their radio to listen to good news. The audience wants some ‘action’ – it is cathartic to know things could have been worse for them. The more they tune in, the more revenue the organisation generates.

      There is ‘national agenda’ – the relationship between media orgs and the government strikes way deep than we can imagine. See the Murdoch empire before it came crashing down (Phone Hacking).

      Perhaps I should say, if global media are the enemies of Africa, it is not of their own sheer will.

      [my reply is for Feathers Project and Nelson – thanks for reading and following]

  3. Shawntee says:

    What i took most importantly, ‘the system that drives the idea that revenue is king is the enemy’ BUT isn’t it the same media that brought about this ‘system’? Soooo, the media is still the enemy! 🙂

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