A paper presented by Yaya B. Baldeh on the theme "Uplifting Africa's Status through Media" at a seminar, organised by the Centre for Africa Strategic Studies in Ankara, Turkey. The event was attended by academics and university students.
Africa today is being widely viewed or reported by using various forms of print and electronic media: in the newspapers, on television, on radio and recently on the Internet. This reportage is both positive and negative.
Many a time, certain audience would cast enormous blame on media personalities (journalists and news workers) for not being neutral in the presentation of their information to the sizeable global audience. To an extent, often closer allies would resonate the slogan, 'The mass media is not neutral or is biased in the news it choose to disseminate on Africa.'
This knowingly or unknowingly,occasionally,has been attributed to 'imperialist attitudes' reflected in the news angle and more so, the language the media employ in the newscast. That's adjective use in talking about Africa.
Sometimes is worth pondering over interrogation of the following prominent questions commonly asked:
Why do you prefer to focus a story on slums and not positive aspects?
Why search out the most miserable environments to film by propagating negative stereotypes of Africa as a nest of poverty and problems?
The media imperialism approach is unique extension of the agenda of the imperialists' ideologies in their quest to reach out to wider audience across the globe, especially in the cultural exchange aspect.
Globally, media could be viewed as that significant weapon aiding the projection of imperialism to global citizen afar from the western nations.
In this sense, the global flow of media is often characterised as media imperialism, such as television, music, books and movies are being imposed on developing nations by the West.
Take, for instance, Hollywood film nowadays are being consumed in most parts of the world to an extent that it overpowered local cultures. In this aspect, audience in these countries are highly glued or attached to these films rather than paying much attention to their own local or national produced films by local actors or actresses. This is discomforting and unfortunate, to say the least.
Media globalisation is seen as a newest way of imperialism and many have the belief that it has the capability to undermine individual cultures. For instance, the global media flow, which is being dominated by certain news agencies, like Reuters, AP, AFP, as well as CNN International, BBC World Service and Voice of America (VOA) do shape the opinions of audience across the world, either positively or negatively.
Of course, it could be argued that media imperialism comes to consolidates and champion the cultural and ideological thinking of the powerful nations who are in control of the global media against another countries, those who are virtually reduced as mere receivers of the information reported through the satellite channels.
Of recent, there are increasing rate of followership of the Western media, for example, Hollywood action films, UK style reality television programmes, CNN style broadcast news, among others, which are making their marks on many local, national and regional levels.
In this regard, it is convincing to state that media imperialism through its global outlets as the 'world agenda setters' are knowingly or unknowingly transferring their cultural, ideological and geopolitical beliefs to the rest of the world.
Proliferation of reporting about Africa on news
The recently arrested outbreak of Ebola in certain African countries, precisely Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea was reported by some Western media outlets as if the continent was wholly rounded up by the deadly disease. This alone is capable of impacting negatively on local businesses and investment progress in other parts of Africa that never bear the trouble of the Ebola epidemic. But the level of generalisation and the hyperbolical statements can intoxicate minds of certain individuals whose understanding about the continent is limited. Or in fact forward-looking, potential visitors and investors to Africa could reverse their decision as a result of the reporting put forward.
Another story headline that often dominates media attention is the story about 'Boko Haram,' which is virtually being given much more attention in its uncountable attacks meted out on citizens in Nigeria. This, to an extent,for an ordinary audience, will build up the notion that this 'powerful network' is so dangerous that if they're not dismantled, they can wreck havoc on the rest of the African continent and elsewhere.
Further, what is so disheartening about this saga is the colonial mindset. With all fairness,there is a need for change of perception, particularly Western media perception, about African affairs in order to report fairly without injection of any prejudices or biasness. In this manner, it would enable outsiders or first-timers who have little or limited knowledge about the African continent not to see Africa through the prism of Western eyes and that is often based on self-opinionated and experienced gained elsewhere used as yardstick to measure the continent in the negative dimensions.
Colonial misrepresentation of Africa as ahopeless continent, poverty-stricken, war-torn area, and corruption ill-infected are all in existence in the modern day projection of the Western media about Africa.
It could be argued that many a time there exist the denial of acknowledging the progress registered in Africa in light of economic progress,and political inclusion and participation in some parts of African societies. Admittedly, it is not all sugar and milk in certain quarters of African development map.
Amplifying positive agenda of Africa
It would be of immense significance when Africa secures its media that would be able to contribute to the African crusade. And this can play critical role in amplifying the voice of the voiceless to the international community in a more accurate and fair manner, especially in terms of projecting the continent's image.
In this aspect, there would be fundamental basis of taking ownership of the African narrative and brand in ensuring that it reflects the continent's realities as opposed to some of the allegedly tormenting and biased stories projected to the global audience. In totality, that could be damaging and even capable of scaring potential investors and first-timers to pay a visit certain to African countries. This could even discourage those on the verge of holiday making, research purpose(s), or even establishment of trust funds aimed at helping the disadvantaged and the less privileged individuals.
However, what ought to be done is that the media needs to be strengthen and play its catalytic role in changing the negative perception about Africa. In this way, there could be chances of growth and investment opportunities to further flourishes. In this sense, all this will depend hugely on the availability of an African own-and-run media outlet that finances its operations costs.
Media as a 'game changer'
The media as a 'game changer' and a public educator, when utilise fully, can profoundly reach out to a number of audience thereby impacting positively on people based on the stories presented to audience both in the continent and beyond.
Of course, as among the traditional core role of the media is to stand a point where it can influences public policy and encourage popular participation in decision-making in society.
In this sense, the media could draw focus on problems, to engage the public into a more active participation in offering solutions and/or combating dismal challenges, etc.
Africa in this day and age needs journalism that innovates and support innovation in modernising the continent. There are several stories that goes unreported which in themselves are positive. For example, think of a farmer in Farafenni, The Gambia, using his/her locally developed or crafted technology for gardening. This could be promoted in the media in order to share ideas with other farmers elsewhere to gain popularity for good. Another newest positive story is about 'Ghana launches its first satellite into space'. Such stories can be promoted and given prominent as a way of inspiring others to emulate the course for further positive exploration in number of sectors in Africa.
The media also can try to maintain its tenets of truthful reportage, balance, objectivity and more so encourage verification of facts in the news before going to press. In this way, either the presenter or crafter of the information and the continent will enjoy some sense of justice and professional integrity to greater sense.
Essentially, the media and government in many African countries often are in loggerheads despite the fact that the media is repeatedly being called the 'fourth estate'. In actual functionality of both the government and the media, in broader sense, is to complement one another. That's traditionally the government initiates policies and the media report about the ideas contained in these policies and programmes as a means of enriching the citizenry about the initiated policies by government concern.
Also, the media can help to end the 'vicious cycle of war' by not glorifying the news they report about. For example, not to over-emphasised the negatives because it can discourage potential investors and further slow down economies progress.
Among the prime role of the African media aside from its traditional roles such as informing, educating and entertaining the masses. It can aspire to inculcate the democratic process whereby the media will serve as a tool for social transformation and a watch-dog role towards serving the interest of the people in a real development and democratic processes as a whole.
Media are essential tools or dimensions being employ in ensuring that the hegemony and ideology of the western nations triumph.
In the same way, the developing countries or other continents viewed as subordinate to them to continue consuming their cultural products such as food stuffs, dresses, music, fashion wears and technological equipment in order to continue satisfying European businesses. This, in essence is to keep the trend of getting the developed countries, especially the West richer and making poor nations to become poorer.
In all truthfulness, the match towards a rapid integrated, peaceful and advanced Africa can reach its stage with the full contribution of proactive and engaged African oriented media. For a simple logic that viewing the continent from a factual but positive lenses could also be of interest to the global audience.
If Aljazeera news outlet could strides in giving Arabs a voice on the global stage. Where's Africa's answer?
This paper is presented by Yaya B. Baldeh, a journalist, researcher and master's student at the Faculty of Communication, Department of Journalism, Ankara University, Turkey.