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By: inoljt,

While scouring the news around the world, I recently came across a fascinating article. Written by Laura Seay of Foreign Affairs, it criticizes the West's media coverage of Africa.

More below.

This is not too surprising; there are plenty of articles which make similar critiques. But what's really good about the article are its details into just how exactly reporters make the news you read about Africa. The second page of the article is especially enlightening.

It's not pretty. Making news about Africa is kind of like making a hot dog - you don't want to see how it's done.

Seay writes about how most "major Western media outlets assign one correspondent for the entire continent," a tradition which has persisted for decades. Most of these reporters, of course, are hopelessly out of their depth and unable to deal (or speak) with the numerous languages in the continent.

So reporters, Seay continues, turn to "fixers." The author goes into great depth about this phenomenon, and it's worth quoting her in full.

The problem is not simply that reporters cannot be expected to speak all of Africa's 3,000-plus languages; it is that foreign correspondents tend to rely on the same small group of fixers to arrange interviews, interpret, and manage logistics.

Yet fixers tend to take reporters to talk to the same subjects, over and over and over again. An echo chamber often results, as the same interviews are done with essentially the same questions and the same answers. The echo-chamber problem is much worse in conflict zones, where NGOs often arrange safe travel for reporters in a bid to get their stories out (and to raise funds for their humanitarian operations). Given the challenges of reporting in the midst of open conflict, this symbiotic relationship works well for both parties: The journalist gets the story, and the NGO gets good press for its campaign.

Seay continues with a specific example about a conflict in Sudan:
The problem is that this tends to produce very one-sided and nonobjective reporting. For example, much of the recent coverage of the conflict in Sudan's Nuba Mountains has been facilitated by the U.S.-based NGO Samaritan's Purse. Many of the reporters traveling with Samaritan's Purse have used the same fixer for their stories, Ryan Boyette, a former employee of the group who is married to a Nuba woman and runs a local effort to document atrocities occurring there. In the space of just a few weeks, Boyette also became the subject of a fawning New York Times profile by Nicholas Kristof, was a centerpiece of Jeffrey Gettleman's reporting for the same publication, and was interviewed by Ann Curry for NBC's Today. This is not to question Boyette's credibility or challenge his analysis (though he is far from a neutral observer), but rather to point out one of many examples of the way the West's Africa reporting becomes biased due to a lack of access and local language skills. As Karen Rothmyer noted in a Columbia Journalism Review article, many reporters working on Africa rely "heavily, and uncritically, on aid organizations for statistics, subjects, stories, and sources." It is thus no wonder that much reporting on Africa is so heavily focused on crises and that many pieces read like little more than NGO promotional materials.
All in all, it's a fascinating article. You very rarely read things like this which unveil the secrets of how journalism is actually done. It's not pretty, but it's definitely worth learning about it.
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Comment Preferences

  •  Samaritan's Purse? Seriously...? (0+ / 0-)

    ...any reporter who would think of Samaritan's Purse as a good source for local contacts is indeed poorly informed. And lazy to boot.

    Frankly, the whole humanitarian world knows what Samaritan's Purse is, and is not.

    It only takes a quick google to discover.


  •  Profits vs journalism. (6+ / 0-)

    From the article you link:

    There is an easy solution to this problem: Hire local reporters. One notable exception to the history of poor coverage of Africa is the BBC, whose World Service has long maintained correspondents in most of the continent's capital cities. Although the World Service's budget has been slashed repeatedly due to declining government support, the BBC has managed to keep much of its Africa coverage afloat by relying largely on local reporters to get the story. This has been particularly important in Somalia. For two decades, it has been nearly impossible for Western reporters to fully and freely report from Somalia due to safety concerns, but the BBC Somali Service's team of local correspondents and producers do an excellent job of getting the news out from their own country. There's no reason that other major media providers couldn't hire local reporters to improve their coverage as well. Rather than relegating them to second-tier or co-author status, why not hire Africans as country or regional correspondents?
    One problem of course is that the World Service has evolved from the Empire Service and so tends to concentrate on Anglophone countries. It does however have a production base in Nigeria which sends its programming to London for onward transmission. They have however been reporting on the food crisis in Western Africa for over  6 months.

    RTF (the French national network) does have a smaller but similar operation in the Francophone areas of Africa. Again this reflects its colonial past however the French government has only recently moved into doing English language coverage through its France 24 operation.

    Another very honorable exception to the rule is Al Jazeera which does have a remit to cover otherwise unreported areas - how much you can call it a western media outlet depends on your view of Doha I suppose.

    What all three have in common is they have a degree of state subsidy - RTF and the BBC directly from government although the World Service will move to being fdunded from the general BBC licence fee in the UK over the next few years, Al Jazeera is the baby of one of the ruling family but has moved more towards having to at least break even with its advertising income replacing this semi-state subsidy.

    Why doesn't Mitt Romney carry an iPhone? 1. He has staff to carry his cellphone 2. He has an Ann Droid.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Thu Sep 20, 2012 at 01:04:53 AM PDT

  •  Once again we learn that the press is not what we (0+ / 0-)

    thought it was.

    Is there any source a person could go to for better news about Africa.  There must be people around the country who can speak some of those languages.  Do any of them have websites, or newspapers?

    •  Alertnet calls itself... (0+ / 0-)

      ..."the world's humanitarian news site"...

      It's a unit of Reuter's, found here.

      Tho' from experience working in several remote locales, I'd point out that using a single source of information for perspectives on complex issues will yield less than ideal results.


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