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Black-on-Black Problem In Africa.

 In Uganda, we allow Museveni to get away with ruling very autocratically but we don't allow Mugabe to do the same. I think there is an awful lot of hypocrisy, not only in the media coverage but also in Western foreign policy which also dictates to a certain extent the way we look at problems." Welcome to the murky world of the "free press" of the West. Report by Michelle Hakata.

At least to New African readers, it comes as dead news. Because we have been reporting it for nearly two years now. The news bit, however, is that it is coming from the horses own mouths. European journalists now accept that there is more to their reporting of Africa. And it was all revealed, voluntarily, at a recent media seminar organised in London by the Conflict and Peace Forum's "Reporting the World" project, under the theme: "Is coverage of Africa racist?" The seminar looked specifically at the reporting of the current war in Congo and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But we got more than was billed. Tom Walker, the diplomatic correspondent of the British weekly and The Sunday Times, told the seminar that he had often been asked by his editors to investigate the bank accounts of President Robert Mugabe. Commenting on the coverage of Zimbabwe's land reform process,
Walker said Mugabe had become the British media's "bogeyman". "I think Zimbabwe is an interesting example," Walker admitted. "I think over here [in
Britain], we've given the public not a very clear picture of what the reality is on the ground. I would say certainly the whites are not the beleaguered lot we've led people to believe in our coverage.

"I have driven from Harare up to the farming heartlands, to places like Centenary, up north, where it's very apparent that the only big vehicles on the roads are the white farmers in their Pajeros and Landcruisers, an enormous amount of economic power rests with the whites.”It's a question of the emergence of democracy in
Zimbabwe, and Mugabe is, of course, fighting tooth and nail to keep hold of his power. I don't think that has been reflected adequately in the coverage."

Walker continued: "I also think what we need from these stories, as we get into the downward spiral of news values in Britain, is a foreign 'bogey-man', and Mugabe has become almost the Milosevic of Africa.” I’m very often asked to investigate Mugabe's bank accounts and things like that, and it's just not possible to do that, but there's tremendous pressure on journalists to approach it from that sort of angle. "There's just not enough analysis of the black-on-black problem in Zimbabwe, and the white problem has been blown out of all proportion because certainly when you compare the number of whites killed in Zimbabwe with the number of whites killed in South Africa, it's extremely small."

They said their news desks and commissioning editors continue to ignore African stories and where efforts were made to engage Western audiences on Africa, the information was often shallow or exaggerated. They all pleaded guilty to not doing enough on Africa, describing their African coverage as "at best uninformed" and "at worst atrocious". Liz McGregor, deputy comment editor of The Guardian, said the Western media were more interested in covering African countries with big white populations. "[In] countries with a large white population like Zimbabwe and
South Africa, she said, "there is a lot more interest and I think this is largely because the newspapers are white run and owned, and they are trying to identify with people who looks like them.
"A lot of their view is skewed by the fact that they are white owned newspapers, and a lot of [them] follow Britain's commercial interests... One of the reasons why there is not a lot of interest in the Congo is that there is not a big white party involved”, McGregor added. She was supported by Mark Huband, an old African hand, and now editor of the international economy pages of The Financial Times. He said the coverage of Zimbabwe by the BBC and the other Western media has become one about white farmers. "The white farmers are one aspect of the story of political change," Huband said. "

The questions that should be asked with regard to their situation within Zimbabwe is what lie behind the decision to target them; and second, do the prejudices which clearly thrive in much of Zimbabwe's white community lie behind the attitude that has led to them being targeted?" Richard Dowden, the Africa editor of The Economist, said covering vast African countries such as Congo was costly. "The Economist has a budget, and trips to Congo are exceedingly expensive and unbudgetable. I spent seven weeks there last year and you get to know little bits. But trying to write an analysis on the back of that, I felt like a mouse looking at a mountain you've seen little bits of the mountain but trying to put it all together was absurd and the cost is unbelievable." It was generally accepted during the seminar that the print media had the tendency to cover African stories as a humanitarian issue. They do this by "creating a narrative, trying to cover ignorance with drama, trying to create a personal story around an individual that a Western viewer can identify with, a white aid worker coming in as a saviour," said Alex de Waal, co-director of the NGO, Justice Africa. Ron McCullough, director of Insight News, said the British media were hopeless at covering what he called "the daily ongoing political nightmare that is Africa" and were merely interested in the results. "I think that our coverage of Africa is atrocious. Analysis of the moment is terrible and the reason is not because the journalists we have in the field don't know what the analysis is. It's because that's not what the news editors in London want," McCullagh said. There was agreement that coverage of the Rwanda genocide, the Congo conflict and the Zimbabwe land crisis perpetuated an image of a continent steeped in wars and crises. Such coverage is often led by powerful television images which allow reporters to hide their ignorance behind the drama. Linda Melvern, who has written a book on the Rwanda genocide, agreed that the British media sought to portray the Rwandan conflict as "tribal chaos and anarchy". The handling of the genocide by both the British media and government, she said, "was a scandal of huge proportions".

Colette Braeckman, the Congo expert of the Belgian daily, Le Soir, said the media often followed the lead set by their home governments in deciding how to cover a story. "During the Congo crisis," she said, "you had the bad guy, [Laurent] Kabila. It is easy to go back and find how many stories demonise him - some with good reason, some bad, but all exaggerated. "The world community," she continued, "wanted to get rid of Kabila for so many reasons, also for reasons of economic interest, and people closed their eyes to what was really going on... "When [Laurent] Kabila came to Belgium, we had a briefing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which said that [the Belgians] were not ready to give him a red carpet treatment, so the [media] were influenced enough to demonise him, and I wonder if that happens in other countries too. "I wonder who sets the agenda; it's not just the press. The political leaders say this is a good guy, this is a bad guy. At the moment Joseph Kabila is a good guy, but maybe tomorrow he would be a bad guy," Colette added. Which made the day of New African’s editor, Baffour Ankomah? For, he had been writing about these things for the past two years (see his tome in the July/August 2000 issue of New African).

As the first speaker at the seminar, Baffour sat there, rubbing his hands with glee, as the European journalists confirmed every point he had been making about the negative reporting of Africa in the past two years. Speaking at the seminar, Baffour said from personal experience, he had "isolated five main factors that drive the Western media". These were: (1) National interest, this determines whether a story is published or rejected, and how big or small it is played;  (2) Government lead, which decides who is a good guy or a bad guy to be praised or demonised; (3) Ideological leaning, of the various papers and broadcasters leftwing or rightwing -determining sympathetic treatment of stories;(4) Advertisers and readers power, in influencing coverage and selection of stories;(5) Historical baggage - the Western media still seeing Africa through the eyes of the explorers of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Interestingly, all the five points were confirmed by the other speakers. On "historical baggage", Baffour said it "is the spice, the sugar and the salt" that Western journalists put in their stories to "sweeten or make them look sexy... That's why we get all these 'dark continent' and 'heart of darkness’. He showed the seminar hard examples of this - copies of Newsweek, Time, Fortune, The Economist, and The Guardian's (weekend colour magazine) which all had everything in colour, except the section on Aids in Africa. "What is the message here," Baffour asked. "Are they out to frighten the Africans into submission or help them to understand what is Aids and its consequences?" To which, Baffour said the Western media had the responsibility to educate their people rather than perpetuate those prejudices and misconceptions.  

"It is the responsibility of the media," he said, "to tell the people that the sun shines more in Congo than in the UK...and thus Congo cannot be the heart of any darkness." Robin Denselow, the correspondent of the BBC flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, put the icing on the cake. He said it was critical for Western journalists to have several sources for their stories. "It is very important," he said, "that when one goes somewhere, one doesn't just talk to the local NGO, usually a white person sitting in front of a black tragedy, an image that I hate." "And there we must leave it," announced Annabel McGoldrick. Source: NewAfrica magazine.

From: Alex Wagunya Kaggiri.

Editor: Munana Wa Munala. 

MarchUTCbWed, 21 Mar 2007 14:36:12 +0000000000pmWed, 21 Mar 2007 14:36:12 +000007 19, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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