Reshaping Africa's Media Narrative

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(Most Americans wouldn't believe this is actually an African city--Dakar, in Senegal. With media's focusing exclusively on turmoil with no analysis, who could blame them?)

The global spread of media corporations has been intimately linked with the history of Western hegemony.

Some media scholars have argued that there is actually ample evidence of a highly profitable, mostly one-way flow of news, information and entertainment from major western countries, led by the United States, to the rest of the world. While much of the globalization of communications has been driven by the commercial interests of large U.S.-based corporations, especially those based in oil and arms manufacture, we have over the years witnessed a deliberate approach by western media to distort news from most developing parts of the world, especially the African continent.  

According to western media, the story of Africa can only be summarized in terms of poverty, hunger, disease, wars or conflicts. What is quite interesting is that whereas western media are quick to portray Africa as a continent in eternal poverty, they on the other hand hide the true picture of how global economic and political forces have continued to conspire, through wanton and unrestricted exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, to disadvantage African people.  

It is so easy for western media to picture Africa and proclaim, like British Prime Minister Tony Blair has done: "Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world." But it is an incomplete exercise to proclaim that Africa is a place of despair if the true context and source of misery is not explained.

It is true that the economies of most African countries have been sluggish. It is also true that most African countries have been crippled by overstretching external debts. And the western media has always brought this out. However, the same western media obscure the role of most western countries and multilateral institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank in entrapping African countries with economically strangulating and unpayable debts. 

It is true that a good number of African countries are bedeviled with internal conflicts. But in reporting about it, western media continue to downplay or even to hide the real part that some western countries have played in most of Africa’s conflicts. We know much about the "diamonds that kill" in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone. There are several reports which show how the love for diamonds in the West is also responsible for conflicts in some mineral-rich African countries. As usual, this important context is almost always ignored by western media.  

African leaders have been accused of not providing enough leadership over the crisis of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the western media continues to report on how most African countries are failing to provide drugs to HIV patients. Fine, we may grant it, a lot needs to be done in Africa in terms of ensuring that most of our people living with HIV/AIDS have access to medicines that prolong their lives.  

However, what the western media has not done is to explain how, through the so-called intellectual property rights agreements, western multinational pharmaceuticals are making super-profits by ensuring that the cost of HIV drugs remains as high as it possibly can remain at profitable levels. The western media has deliberately mystified the role of multinational pharmaceuticals in denying HIV patients in developing countries, especially in Africa, access to cheap and affordable drugs.

Truly, the condition of Africa is one that is not enviable. We are not denying this. And it is simply impossible to conceal the miserable state of our continent. But what we disagree with is the manner in which mainstream western media, primarily British and American, deliberately ignore the historical context of Africa’s endemic crises.  

Those who argue in favor of the negative portrayal of Africa normally rely on the easy position that Africa is indeed a sorry sight—it is a continent of pestilence, hunger, disease and backwardness and therefore it needs the sympathies of everyone. However, it must also be understood that what Africa needs is not the sympathy of anyone, not least that of the western media.  

What we ask for is that African news, in the eyes of western media, must be based on facts and the various political, economic and cultural contexts, which have shaped the history of the continent over the years. Rather than end at seeing only poverty, disease, corruption and civil wars in Africa, the role of colonialism, neocolonialism, neoliberalism and the general uneven distribution of the world’s resources must also be explained by western media as they attempt to tell the story of Africa.  

But we know that such a proposition will be ignored because not only might it be considered to have less news value to the West, but also because western media have economic might to decide freely how they do their business. This, then, means that it is a burden that falls on our shoulders that an alternative is found to counterbalance western media’s pathetic and biased coverage of our continent, including other developing continents such as Latin America and some parts of Asia.  

We cannot afford to have the western media tell the African story, nor the story of any other underdeveloped region of the world. We do not have the luxury of allowing western media to continue twisting the image of Africa just for megalomaniac ambitions of the West.  

As the world becomes more globalized, it needs to be reflected in a much more accurate, balanced and realistic manner. The problems of the world today are too important to be left to the whims of often simplistic western media.
To achieve this, the establishment of more news outlets, originated in the developing world themselves, should be immediately explored. Here, we can take a few good lessons from Al-Jazeera in the Arab world and Telesur in Latin America.  

Talk of creation of an African channel is already there. We need to start transforming such talk into deeds so that an African channel is quickly established. We have the ideas and we have the human capacities. What is required is to start putting these ideas into coherent and cohesive pieces and synergizing the different human capabilities available to us within the African continent. We understand our values, norms, traditions and cultures better than the West and we have to start showing ourselves to the rest of the world through our own eyes.  

In Africa, we need to create a channel that should not only be limited to an African audience, but should also expand into western societies so that we can show the world that apart from the mud huts it sees through western media, we are also struggling to make progress in certain areas of human endeavor.  

The conditions are certainly not the most enviable in our continent, but such a channel should show the struggles that African people are daily making to improve their lives. Besides, Africa, like any other continent of the world, is too important and it has a role to play in shaping global opinion and the world view.  
We need to start thinking differently. These are new and different times; they call for new and different ways of thinking.

Malido is the News Editor of the Post Newspaper in Zambia.

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