The developing world, Africa in particular has always argued against the imbalances and injustices in the coverage of their affairs by the western media. Such coverage is not only paternalistic but most times grossly unfair, and serves only to sustain the imperialistic interests of the developed world.
Such imbalanced, negative and biased reporting is bound to continue because of the concentration of global media networks and resources in the west.
It is indeed sad that 26 years after the UNESCO sponsored McBride Commission and Report, the recommendations are yet to be fully implemented; the most significant of which is the suggestion for’the progressive implementation of national and international measures that will foster the setting up of a new world information and communication order’.
If anything, the information divide between the developed and developing countries has widened even further especially in this digital age which is being driven by globalization and technology. Africa and the rest of the developing world have found themselves again lagging behind the west.
However, a little goodwill and responsibility on the part of the western media is really needed at this time to prevent the continued psychological scares and damages, leading sometimes to feelings of inferiority complex on the part of the African as a result of continued sensationalisation and criminalisation of everything African.
Not all Africans are criminals, rapists and savages. Also, there are many good things about Africa. Not all Africans live in slums; neither do they all scavenge rubbish heaps for food. Africa has also produced intellectuals and academics that can stand their own in the western world. Agreed the continent still faces peculiar challenges, but so does the rest of the developed world.
A situation where little efforts on the part of African governments and their people to take control of their destiny are either unreported, misreported, under-reported or acknowledged with cynicism by the western media is unacceptable, and does not indicate respect for the continent, neither does it reflect the ideals of partnership, a concept that Western leaders have been touting lately.
But why do the western media still thrive on a culture of negative and biased reporting of Africa and her people?
It could be as a result of the need to improve ratings, which can only be achieved by satisfying the mundane voyeuristic tastes and expectations of the western media audience, whose colonial views of Africa as the backward and dark continent must be reinforced and sustained.
Also, it could be as a result of the immoral culture and acceptance by the western media that ‘bad news sells’, and hence news about hunger in Sudan depicting dying children, or about savagery in Rwanda must be sought and reported by all means, even if at the sacrifice and expense of the developmental needs of the African, as well as their national interests.
Again, the McBride Report was published at a time when global media concentration was in the hands of national governments and their agencies, the understanding must have been that these governments would prevail on the media networks through directed policies to encourage a new world information and communication order. Because the report is advisory in nature and relied on goodwill from the stakeholders without any legislative powers to enforce sanctions, it had remained merely what it is – a report and doesn’t seem to have made much impact, despite the efforts by Africans to set up the Pan African News Agency (PANA), billed as the voice of Africa to the world and representing the African perspective, not much could be said to have been achieved and it has been business as usual ever since.
Finally, the greater concentration of global media networks in the west, i.e. CNN, BBC, FOX, Reuters, AFP etc, coupled with the availability ofmaterial and human resources have meant that western media are able to come up first with the news, as against African media networks such as NTA, SABC, PANA, NAN, AIT etc who are still bogged by dearth of resources, and therefore can not cope in the global news race, thus limiting their chances of covering the African continent positively. It is such that Africans have had to rely on the western media for news coverage of events happenings right under their noses, or in their back yards. The western media are able to deploy resources even to the remotest regions, they can afford to since they have both the resources and personnel. Not the same can be said of African media networks.
Africans may also be guilty of helping to perpetuate this neo-colonialism, western journalists and writers and their chauvinistic views are culled, easily celebrated and given media spaces in African media channels, not minding that the situation reversed becomes like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle for African writers and journalists to be published in the western media, with the exception of a few African writers and journalists who maintain the western status quo, unwilling to rock the boat.
Few incidents reported recently in the United Kingdom (UK) media drives home this point. The Tony Blair government has been embroiled in a battle for political survival since their battering at the last local government elections in May 2006.
The Blair government is looking for sacrificial lambs every where to make up for the government’s ineptitude in certain areas, and also to satisfy the interests of the media. It appears that they have zeroed in on Africans and other immigrants in the UK. The British media have now successfully created the impression in the minds of the ever increasing nationalistic UK citizens, that immigrants are evil and criminal. Matters were also not helped by the fact that over a thousand dangerous criminals were mistakenly released, some of whom allegedly were supposed to be deported but weren’t as a result of a Home Office error.
Newspapers such as the Evening Standard went to town recently with a screaming headline announcing that 5 Nigerian illegal immigrants were caught working in the home office. A further analysis actually showed that the immigrants in question worked as cleaners under contract by another firm.
Such biased headlines actually undermine the importance of immigrants in most western economies. Considering the low wages paid to workers in the cleaning and related sectors, it remains to be seen if citizens of these countries would agree to work such menial jobs at the ludicrous wages the immigrants are paid for their services.
It appears Nigeria now represents everything evil in eyes of the western media as they are quick to give front page coverage with screaming headlines to matters concerning the country. Take the case of Dr Richard Akinrolabu, a senior house officer at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester who was accused by his lover and colleague of attempting to carry out illegal abortion procedures on her. The doctor was named and shamed in front page headlines which were written along the lines of ‘Nigerian Doctor R
30;’ His accuser, the white woman did not suffer the same fate. In the end, the case was thrown out but not after the huge embarrassment to the doctor and his fellow country men. You would expect the media to also accord the not-guilty verdict the same headlines and coverage but they did not.
Another example of western media misreporting of Africa and Africans could be seen in the case of Guy Koma, who mistakenly became an interview guest on the BBC News 24 programme. Due to a scheduling mix-up, Mr Koma who had gone to the BBC centre for a job interview was mistaken for the scheduled guest (Guy Kewney) but still managed to ‘talk’ his way through the session although he had no clue of the interview theme. The UK media revelled in the story because of its human interest angle but wrongly identified Mr Koma as a taxi driver. Not that there is anything wrong with being a taxi driver but the media’s judgment could only have been influenced by their age-old prejudices as to the type of jobs African immigrants do. It has since been confirmed that Mr Koma was actually attending a job interview in the IT department of BBC at the time of the mix-up. There were no follow-up reports on whether he got the job, not that Mr Koma cared anyway because he has since signed a lucrative movie deal with an American production company over the incident, and is billed to play himself in the movie.