INTRODUCTIONComposed of roughly 11 million square miles of land, containing 54 countries with 3000 distinct ethnic groups and approximately 2000 spoken languages, Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent in the world. Yet, Africa is subjected to one of the most biased Western media coverage. The role of media is to inform people and “is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another into vision”( Lippmann (1998:364)). That being said, it is important to give full image and not distort information in which biased news in created for captivating audience purpose. The former BBC Africa zone reporter comments that “For most people who get their view of the world from TV, Africa is a faraway place where good people go hungry, bad people run the government, and chaos and anarchy are the norms.
My job is to give a fuller picture. But I have a gnawing regret that, as a foreign correspondent, I have done Africa a disservice, too often showing the continent at its worst and too rarely showing it in full flower.” Negative media coverage of Africa, especially prior and early 21st century, is widely distributed and communicated within the Western world and has impacted the way in which Africa is viewed around the world. This essay will give an evidence to the negative coverage of Africa in the western media. And will also discuss the image portrayed in the western media of African countries has become somewhat less biased in the past few years; thus impacting how Africa is represented and interacts with western countries. When most western people consider images of Africa, they think of the commercial calamity and brutality, starving, malnutrition children, strife, and adversity. This image does not come from no where, it is created by the media.
BODYThe Western news media coverage of Africa has portrayed the continent, especially prior and early 21st century, as an area of constant disaster, conflict, and adversity. The many negative themes in which Africa’s news is covered upon creates a notion of helplessness and danger which produces a biased media coverage of the continent. One of the many reoccurring themes of Africa in the western media is it being an unsafe and unclean place with many health issues. For instance, in 2013 a Times magazine article is published under the title “Africa’s Drinking Problem”. The article talked about alcoholism in Kenya which quickly turned into entire Africa’s population issue with alcoholism. Jessica Hatcher, the author of the article, stating that “while the government in the west are considering minimum pricing standards for alcohol, in nearly a dozen countries across Africa…governments are applying tax breaks to booze”.
Nearly dozen out of 54 countries decision to apply tax breaks to booze pushed her to conclude that in fact “Africa has a drinking problem. It is the new darling of multinational beverage companies looking to drive profits in an increasingly booze-saturated world”. However, when viewing the World Health Organization’s 2011 Global status Report which also served as the base report for the article, shows Kenya ranked 118th out of 189 countries that have alcoholism issues. This is one of the many examples of how the western media has the tendency to overgeneralize Africa and its shortcomings. When viewing reports on specific countries in Africa, the same shortcomings are highlighted. For example, an article titled “South Africa is coming apart at the Seams” in the Daily Mail(London) newspaper portrayed South Africa as a dysfunctional place and its people as “psychologically disturbed”.
The Guardian stated:Problems of racism, conflict, and isolation have turned South Africans into one of the most psychologically disturbed people in the world, says a top health expert. The crime rate in Cape Town and Johannesburg was the highest in the world and the country’s divorce rate among the three highest.Containing only 118 words, the article frames South Africa as a place of racism and conflict with a mental health challenge. Words such as racism, conflict, and isolation create an inevitable image of danger and fear.
Overall lack of healthcare and health awareness in Africa has questioned yet again on February 3, 1987, on The Guardian in which an article reports Kenyan truck drivers accused of carrying AIDS with them and being one of the major transmitters of HIV/AIDS across Africa. The Daily Mail(January 31, 1987) reported that due to the spread of AIDS amongst prostitutes, the British army banned all soldiers from visiting coastal resorts in Kenya in hopes of protecting its troops from AIDS carrying prostitutes. In 1987, The Guardian stated, “It’s fine to come and see the animals in the game parks and lie on the beach but if you are coming on a sex safari you are taking a big risk.” This is an evidence of how the media portrays an image of Africa as unclean and unsafe place and create a negative perception whilst conforming to the generalized understanding of wildlife… when it cautioned tourists of visiting Kenya. Another evidence of the biased coverage of Africa is following the Ebola outbreak, in 2014, Newsweek, a news website, with a bolded title, announced a “SMUGGLED BUSHMEAT IS EBOLA’S BACK DOOR TO AMERICA”.
The news explored how “Less than three miles from Yankee Stadium, the colorful storefronts of African markets lining the Grand Concourse are some of the first signs of a bustling Bronx community that includes immigrants from those West African nations hit hardest by the recent and unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola virus.” Not only that the term “bushmeat” is used to cause a sense of unsettlement in the intended audience though it simply meaning is a non-domesticated animal, there is also no fact supporting the claim “bushmeat” is linked with the Ebola outbreak. The word choice easily neglects that anyone that ate hunted dear or any non-domesticated animals has also eaten “bushmeat”. Another problem with this cover story is that it portrays West Africans as diseased savages who eat chimpanzees. However, though it is common in West Africa to consume non-domesticated animals, it is very rare that it is chimpanzees. Moreover, the cover story generalizes the West African nations as heavy Ebola-affected zone completely neglecting Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are the only countries that had a former widespread transmission of Ebola.
Another recurring theme in the western media is Africa portrayed as a brutal place. The violation of human rights and police brutality are explored when discussing the shortcomings of the African continent. For instance, on July 22, 1987, the Guardian published a story under the title “Kenya Abuse of Human Rights is put on Record: Amnesty Report Details Cases of Torture, Killing and Illegal Detention”. The story reports that the Kenyan government used secret and illegal detention to intimidate its rising opponent. In 1989, the Guardian followed up by quoting a former detainee who was subjected to ‘monstrously savage and tyrannical torture”.
Again, the western media framework focused on brutality in Africa when discussing police brutality. The Guardian, April 28 and October 29 of 1987, reinforced the theme of feared and unsafe place by using a brutal frame to indicate and report the police brutality giving examples of arrests, beating and baton charges by the police. For example, on South Africa during the apartheid-era, The Guardian of September 1, 1989, published an article titled “SA Cracks down on Defiance: Anti-Apartheid Leaders Launch Nationwide 92 Protests” in which it is stated that the South African government increases police brutality with the increasing protests. Banning orders in Apartheid meetings are implemented by disrupting whips and rubber bullets to national defiance. On September 25th, the Guardian published a story titled “Rampant Riot Police Attack Pretoria Blacks at Random: Roadblocks and Water Cannon Used to Prevent Women from Marching”. The article reported that “Uniformed South African police” invaded the streets arresting and beating black people due to the attempts of a march on government building by women’s organizations. When reporting coverage of African news in the western media, the words used are often grim to further demonstrate the idea that Africa’s norms are brutal and helpless. For example, The Daily Mail(June 10, 1988) reported a crime in South Africa where a British mother was raped and murdered.
The article is 388 words in which most of the words and phrases used to display a vivid imagery of inhumanity which allows the article to concentrate on brutality. “Strangled to death”, and “raped” were used to describe the crime in the article. It is not the rate of criminal activity that in fact makes Africa unprecedented but the way in which it is reported with the use of words and phrases such as “died in a hail of bullets” that portrays the action as the norm and overpaints the level of extreme violence crime. For example with just reading the first few words of the article which reads “British wife found raped and murdered” creates an image of profound atrocity thus eliciting a responsive and emotional audience.
In January 1989, The Daily Mail yet again reinforced the brutality of Africa through an article that discusses sexual violence in South Africa. The article reported Cape Town as ” one of the crime capital of the world”. This highlights Cape Town as a dangerous place “1,887 murders and 1,482 rapes in the city and surrounding areas”. The article portrays South Africa as a dangerous place for tourists by saying it has the one of the highest rate of reported rape in the world. Naming the city of Cape Town and surrounding area as “crime capital of the world” bolster the idea of brutality and as South Africa is known to be one of the more developed countries in Africa, the article not only puts a bad rub on one South Africa but Africa as a whole. The former BBC Africa correspondent, George Alagiah discussed western journalism in Africa stating For most people who get their view of the world from TV, Africa is a faraway place where good people go hungry, bad people run the government, and chaos and anarchy are the norms.
My job is to give a fuller picture. But I have a gnawing regret that, as a foreign correspondent, I have done Africa a disservice, too often showing the continent at its worst and too rarely showing it in full flower. This can be seen by the over generalized 2000 cover of The Economist, Africa was said to be “The Hopeless Continent”. The evidence used is countries such as Mozambique and Madagascar are “degenerated into a shambles” and Ethiopia and Zimbabwe described as “deluged by floods, famine” and continent “succumbed to government-sponsored thuggery” as “poverty and pestilence continued unabated”.found that in most sub-Saharan African countries, the rate of infections had started to decline.
In recent years, however, western media has become less biased. The images of Africa has started to become more full-rounded and nuanced. Almost all African countries have had held few election in the past 20 years. There had been less war and more democracy. A UNAIDS report has helped establish some of the health growth where in most sub-Saharan African countries the rate of HIV/AIDS had fallen significantly in short period of time. In 2010, six out ten countries on the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were from the sub-Saharan Africa region.
This reports has helped establish a notion of development and perhaps have helped the western media deviate from only reporting negative news coverage of Africa. For example, The Economist who previously labeled Africa as a “Hopeless continent” stated in 2008 that “once described by this newspaper, perhaps with undue harshness, as ‘the hopeless continent,’ could yet confound its legion of gloomsters and show that its oft-heralded renaissance is not just another false dawn prompted by the passing windfall of booming commodity prices, but the start of something solid and sustainable.” In 2013, The Economist published an article under the title of “A Hopeful Continent” in which the report highlighted improvement within the past 10 years and the optimism of the upcoming positive changes.
The article states:This special report will paint a picture at odds with Western images of Africa. War, famine, and dictators have become rarer. People still struggle to make ends meet, just as they do in China and India.
They don’t always have enough to eat, they may lack education, they despair at daily injustices and some want to emigrate. But most Africans no longer fear a violent or premature end and can hope to see their children do well. That applies across much of the continent, including the sub-Saharan part, the main focus of this report. Here the article points out that people in Africa do struggle just as people from other parts of the world do, and famine and disease happen in parts of Africa and not reporting such news is also the distortion of information. The article deviates from distortion by making a comparison and directly stating the focus of the article. Within the past few years, there have been fewer cases of negative distortion of information to make up newsworthy, captivating report.
Western media has begun to make report positive news as well as negative ones like technological and medical findings in Africa. For example, The Guardian(December 2017) published an article titled ” The magnets and light beams that signal an end to blood tests for malaria”. Within the first few lines, the article states how malaria is the leading cause of death in Uganda. The article continues to reports how a Ugandan software engineer Brian Gitta came up with a “low-cost device to speed up diagnosis” for malaria. This article is quite different from the articles discussed above as it reports positive innovation by Ugandan engineer which is quite different from the recurring theme of helplessness. Further evidence of change in the biases of western media can be seen from an article titled “Good vibration: a sonar device that could replace canes for blind people” by the same newspaper. The article discusses how “visually impaired people in Kenya and far beyond could soon benefit from a Nairobi student’s(Brian Mwenda) echolocation tool, which uses sensors to detect nearby objects”. The reporter interviewed Mr.
Mwenda which helps create a connection and help understand the inspiration for such innovation. The article also discusses the issue of education in Kenya which a reality but does so by implementing facts and not creating an overall negative look at Africa in general. Another example is CNN news report(2016) on health care and education in African countries, specifically South African, Kenya and Niagara. The article is titled “Optimism is rising in Africa, here is why” which elicit a promising reading and evoke feelings of profound potency and capability of the continent of Africa. However the way in which Africa is represented in the media has impacted western countries interaction with Africa.
Western countries have, for many years, viewed Africa as helpless, violent and full of disaster. Thus, Africa is seen as inferior and in need of aids and support in terms of human rights and representation of women. For example, Africa being inferior has not only been communicated through news articles but also have taken comical and have been romanticized in the entertaining businesses. For instance, in the movie Raw produced in the U.S.
A in 1987, the main character jokes that he will avoid a greedy woman (an American woman) by finding a “bush bitch in Africa”. The punchline being that the African woman wouldn’t desire anything as she has nowhere to keep it; she won’t even have a pocket. In fact she will be “butt-naked”.
This portrays African woman as sex object who just exist to please men. Another example of this is the movie Coming to America starring Eddie Murphy in 1988. The movie is about a prince that is unable to find an intelligent woman in Africa so he goes to New York to find an American woman who will “arouse his intellect as well as his loins”. Throughout the movie, African women are portrayed as obtuse, voiceless and hyper-sexualized animals. This is a direct reflection of colonial mentality; in fact the images of African women that appeared on postcards during colonialism are identical to the women that bathe the prince in the beginning of the movie. Therefore, western people interact with Africa with a notion of the inferiority of Africans and a strong feeling of need to help. Therefore, the interaction between western countries and African countries has been a need-based help support.
The notion of superiority and inferiority is broadcasted on western media. Also the way in which Africa represented is worrisome to Africans. In 2013, The Guardian published an opinion piece by Remi Adekoya who is a Polish-Nigerian who was the former editor of the Warsaw Business Journal.
In the article, Remi Adekoya the reason why Africans, particularly Africans living abroad, are concerned about how Africa is portrayed in the western media. Africans living abroad “fret about the perception of their continent and its inhabitants because their future often depends on the opinions of those in whose country they reside”. He gives examples of a Nigerian British passport holder who does not publicly announce his roots because of the ” negative perceptions created by the country’s notorious e-scammers”. He discuss how African professionals in Europe who are ” constantly being underestimated in their workplaces because it is assumed that since they grew up and went to school in a poor, backward environment (as many presume all of Africa is), they can’t know terribly much after all” and that “a Nigerian, Kenyan or Zambian university graduate working in Europe will likely have to overperform in their job before they are accorded the same respect”. This shows how for those living abroad with an African root, a negative news coverage of Africa is concerning as it makes their professional lives arduous.Conclusion The choices media opus make about how they cover a story such as a language used including the words and phrases used, the images convey and even the placement of these images and words all impact the message communicated to the intended audience. Western news coverage of Africa is an evidence of the importance of production of media on the reception of the story covered.
Within the last few years, the western media has deviated from just reporting negative news and has started to give a more well-rounded perception of the continent. Yet the coverage of positive news of Africa is relatively dismal. Such type of content is not aired or/and published in western media. The lack of positive news coverage of Africa surplus the reason of the notion Africa being a continent filled with despair.
Freedland shows how any continent or even country can be advertised as Africa and gave an example of The United States of America stating:If the media covered America the way we cover Africa, here’s what we would know of the United States over the last decade. That in 2000 there were fiercely disputed elections in which the presidency was seized by the candidate who won fewer votes than his rival. That a year later, one of the country’s major cities was rocked by a devastating terror attack, costing thousands of lives. And that in 2005 another key city was submerged in record floods, destroying homes and leaving a thousand dead after the dominant tribe left the minority tribe to their fate. Surely we would speak of America as the Dark Continent, cursed to face constant suffering.
Recent media has, however, been much less biased when covering Africa in news, yet still not completely fair. This can be seen by the small amount of the diverse community in Leysin American School. When surveying the LAS student body on their general knowledge of African countries, the responses were much more positive and realistic. Almost 90 percent of the surveyed student body stated that news about African countries portrays Africa as poor and in need. 44.4 percent of the students surveyed have traveled to an African country(Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Kenya) and more than 66% of the surveyed students are able to name more than 10 African countries out of which 33.
3% of them can locate these countries. In terms of the economic impression of Africa, 61.1% believe that Africa is a developing continent, 22.2% believe that African countries are poor, 11.
1% feel that countries in Africa compete economically with western countries. The student in the survey stated that the kind of news media that impact their view off African countries, in order of most affecting to least, are online news, movies, Tv at home, newspaper, books, and magazines. The power of media, especially western media, can be seen from the small sample of the international community in Leysin American School. It is important to report news that are clear and honest, both negative and positive events, and not the sensationalized, violent and negative reportage of the African continent.