“Africans know little about their continent through national media,” African Media Initiative
Nairobi, July 16, 2018– The African Media Initiative (AMI) has just released a report suggesting that there is very little cross-border reporting by African media, resulting in limited knowledge of the continent by Africans. The “Reporting Africa” study points out that most of the news about Africa comes from sources external to the continent and that these ultimately determine what has been referred to as “the Africa narrative”.
The report underscores the fact that global media organizations constitute a powerful vehicle for not only shaping the global agenda but also for framing the lens through which Africa is perceived by Africans and the world.
The research sought to figure out what currently prevails and if there are any compelling dialogues that are reported and can collectively define the Africa story. It was informed by empirical data gleaned from published reports from across the region and responses provided by editors to a range of questions from AMI.
“We wanted to figure out how Africa is covered by media on the continent and the factors that determine such coverage,” said AMI Chief Executive Officer Roukaya Kasenally in a pre-launch statement. “We were concerned,” she pointed out, “with questions about how media in Africa contribute to the creation of a common understanding of the continent’s realities beyond narratives based on preconceived ideas and stereotypes.”
The study sought to deepen overall understanding of the elements that drive media coverage within and beyond national borders, informs editorial choices, and shapes local and regional perceptions of the continent.
It brought out the fact that low investments in media and limited professional capacity in many countries had resulted in persistent dependence on foreign news sources, giving rise to a limited focus in African newspapers on stories that enrich the African agenda and emphasize shared experiences.
It emerged from the study that media leaders believe that readers and audiences prefer interesting stories which, in the African context, means, in the words of one of the respondents, “intriguing tales of failure and defeat against the forces of nature”.
“If we are going to reimagine Africa’s image and change the narrative,” concluded the reports co-author, Eric Chinje, “we would have to figure out innovative ways of significantly increasing investments in media and use technology to source content from counterpart media across borders in Africa. There must be a genuine home-grown effort to define and shape the narrative in ways that reflect the diversity of voices and images of a continent on the move.”
Wondering if current coverage of Africa is informed by 21st century realities or pre-conceived ideas from another era, co-author Wangethi Mwangi emphasized the need for more credible and contextualized reporting by both regional and global news correspondents. He noted that “continued reliance on foreign news agencies will ensure that the persistence of poor leadership in a handful of countries will continue to provide a rich pool from which to source negative reports that define the entire continent”.
African media is primarily national in outlook and focus, with rarely more than a page or two in national dailies devoted to news about other countries in the region.
An important gathering of heads of state and government took place during the period under study. None of the issues on the agenda of the meeting received continent-wide coverage or in any significant group of countries. Indeed, the media was not a reliable source of information or knowledge about the African Union – the pan-African institution that hosted the event.
The emerging role of Social Media
Social media is also responsible for redefining the role and scope of media in society. Bloggers have become a new class of media celebrities. Africans are believed to be among the world’s leading users of Facebook and WhatsApp. With the ability to produce and disseminate content, albeit to a restricted audience, social media is filling gaps in the news business left by a capacity-deficient and resource-burdened legacy media. The downside to a rising dependence on social media for news in Africa is quite considerable and is giving rise to the growing chorus of complaints about “fake” news. There is also the recognition, at a time when the search is on for continent-wide dialogues and a new narrative that will redefine Africa, of the fact that fragmentation is within the DNA of social media.
The study used a mixed method approach, with a focus on content analyses and a survey questionnaire among editors across Africa. An expert meeting on ‘Reporting Africa’ provided additional input and analysis.
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“Reporting Africa” report Editing Team: Roukaya Kasenally, Eric Chinje, Wangethi Mwangi and George Nyabuga, June 2018
AMI is a pan-African organization that seeks to strengthen the continent’s private and independent media sector from an owner and operator perspective to promote democratic governance, social development and economic growth.