It is undeniable that the media is the mirror through which we look at ourselves and the lens through which we see the world around us. Whether it is broadcast, print or digital, the media is second only to first-hand experience, in shaping our world view.
Yet so much of the media is devoid of international reporting and that little that exists is often a vacuous repetition of tired stereotypes. The popularity of the New Yorker’s post on the top ten positive stories about Africa in 2011 confirms that there is plenty of appetite for something other than the Western media’s mantra of death, destitution and desperation in Africa.
So as 2011 makes way for 2012, I set myself the challenge of finding 10 media sources that have bucked these trends and pursued to varying degrees a more inclusive and balanced policy on reporting Africa. You will certainly think highly of others that haven’t made the list, so add to the comments those who’ve most impressed you with their coverage of Africa and developing world issues.
Whether you think Al Jazeera reckless for broadcasting information for which sources cannot always be validated or you think them biased in their reporting, there is no denying the organisation’s significant role in covering the Arab Spring and subsequently, their commitment to covering Africa in news and blogs. I’ve been impressed by Al Jazeera’s use of citizen journalists and interest in how social media can be used in news reporting: in April, Al Jazeera launched The Stream, a web show which curates its top stories from its online community.
Into the void created by shrinking international coverage by the mainstream media, Global Voices put citizen journalists – bloggers to tell their own stories – and works hard so that quality isn’t compromised. Their efforts to cover the stories that elude the mainstream, are exemplified in their coverage of the recent elections in Cameroon. To much of the media, Cameroon means only two things: football and a lion-maned first lady. Yet Global Voices coverage reminded readers that Cameroon is a bilingual country, run by a media-shy dictator (one of Africa’s longest standing) and has complex geopolitics that show the destructive legacy of colonialism.
It’s not only Western media that portrays a one-dimensional Africa, media across the continent also perpetuates the ignorance that so often leads to xenophobia. But South Africa’s Mail and Guardian has decided to show how Africans live, not just how they die and has resurrected its African Voices series. Describing the series, the site says: “Our essays are written by Africans about life in their Africa – ordinary people getting on with their own lives, often in the face of adversity. These stories aim to give us glimpses across the fence into the daily lives, loves and frustrations of our neighbours on the continent that go beyond the usual headlines.”
CSM might not be as well known as the New York Times or the UK Guardian but its insightful reporting, quizzes and multimedia galleries helped readers gain a more balanced view of Africa and the role the continent plays in the world. Its feature, Africa Rising, looks at the business, investment and development trends and is now focusing on Sierra Leona . This is one media company that doesn’t rely on the clichés one of its correspondents, Jina Moore, points out in her blog post on reporting African elections.
- 5. The Guardian’s Global Development desk
Continuing its commitment to development reporting after the Katine Project, is the Guardian’s Global Development desk. The site doesn’t just report on Africa nor does it, in my opinion, sufficiently engage with the communities its content is about but perhaps that’s not the point. As a platform for aid workers, Global Development is excellent and with new forays into providing foreign language content, it’s relevance to the development community will only continue to grow.
The BBC and its World Service, the world’s leading international broadcaster was not been spared in the coalition government’s budget cuts but its Africa flagship comment show, BBC Africa have your say (HYS), have managed to evade total demolition. Taking a page from The Stream’s book, social media will play a central role in both how the HYS team chooses its stories and how its audience interacts with those stories, while BBC Africa has maintained a respectable mix of news, comment and multimedia content, reflecting both the complex stories and struggles and the rich diversity and opportunities on the continent.
Describing itself as an “advocacy tool for social justice, designed specifically for those working in Africa”, Pambazuka News has for ten years been publishing comment and analysis about Africa from a group of contributors that are as diverse as the issues it covers. It’s content is also available in Africa’s three main official languages: English, French and Portuguese.
It’s known that I’m not the biggest fan of Comic Relief’s annual fundraiser, Red Nose Day, but the charity has sought to balance its portrayal of Africa with a site that for its cheeriness alone deserves a mention. See Africa Differently recognises that young people are both the change makers of tomorrow and those most interested in a new narrative about Africa today and using social media and social networks to reach its audience with positive stories and facts about Africa.
In joint ninth place, these two news sources can be counted on to cover both the well known countries and Africa’s more obscure nations.
Next is new to me but was recommended on Twitter by AfriPop‘s editor Phiona Okumu. I’m certainly not in love with its style (the subheadings under world news are “development, disaster, economics, politics and war”) but this Nigerian publication seems very much to reflect the aspirations of modern Nigeria: it’s big and bold and looking to compete par for par with the best of the world’s press.
So there they are. My top ten. But the list would not be complete without mention of the blog Africa is a country, “a media blog that is not about famine, Bono or Barack Obama” – what’s not to like? Or indeed Connect4Climate, which I concede is a campaign not a media site but gets a mention for the efforts to use social media to bring to a global audience, the stories of what climate changes means to Africans.