African Media Should Set Itself Free

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IT is characteristic of the African media to become copycats of the European media and not uncommon for the continent’s watchdog to see things through prisms of the West.

One hardly notices any difference between a European and African newspaper or television in terms of news content, slant and presentation when browsing through newspaper pages except for the geographical location of the reader, be it in Windhoek, Nairobi, Accra or Johannesburg and of course, the names of places and people. Other than that, everything else is the same.

Put differently, it is not only fashionable but also seemingly appropriate and acceptable for the African media to mimic their European and American counterparts. The European media simply sets standards and benchmarks and all that the African media does is follow like sheep led to a slaughterhouse.

One such grey area in terms of reporting by Africans and obviously copied from their European mentors is the obsession with negative as opposed to positive stories. And Africa is not short of positive stories these days. Not that negative stories do not matter. Of course, they do but reporting them with the obsession of madness is in itself madness.

Africa is no longer a story of wars, famines and dictators. There is much more than these and a lot of success stories that reporters, both foreign and local, could focus on. Africa’s diversity, its rich culture, enormous wealth and resources, virgin lands and open spaces and above all, its resilient and vibrant people would make good copy for reporters that are serious about telling the African story.

So is democracy and good governance that have taken root in much of the continent. In fact, these are not new concepts to Africans. They are embedded in our respective cultures and traditions as Africans and were practised centuries ago before imperial colonialism wrought damage to what were once thriving institutions that upheld these systems on the continent.

It is these and issues of development that the African media tend to overlook in a quest to produce juicy stuff that condemns our continent and relegates it to darkness.

Little is being done by media houses in Namibia and Africa to strike a balance in terms of reporting the bad and the good, although reporting is about balance and fairness.

One such story that is being told with the obsession of madness is Zimbabwe. Reporting on Zimbabwe by the African media including the Namibian media has been raised above all else including the current carnage on the streets of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and other South African towns. This is in keeping with the reporting standards and values set by European and American media.

European and American power houses like BBC and CNN defied all the odds and camped on Zimbabwe’s borders for the March 29 harmonised elections to await the humiliation of Zanu-PF, alternatively the carnage that was ‘supposed’ to erupt after the elections.

These institutions sent some of their best reporters to hang around Zimbabwe’s borders and to report from there about what was happening inside the country. The reporters filed stories about the elections with zeal and great fanfare. Every line of the story was read with much enthusiasm.

If not reporting on elections, it was about how the Zimbabwean economy was hurting ordinary Zimbabweans. The stories did not explain how people would survive under the circumstances, their resilience and instincts to survive, their work ethics and hard work. It was all about suffering and of course, who caused the suffering.

And now, the same mediums are trying to link the current xenophobic attacks to the situation in Zimbabwe. The heavy weights of CNN and BBC are nowhere to be seen in South Africa where 56 Africans have died in attacks in that country except for local correspondents.

Similarly, reporting the xenophobic attacks by the African media including the media in Namibia is half-hearted. Whereas on Zimbabwe, the readers would be bombarded with pictures of people displaying injuries sustained from political violence, nothing of the sort is being done about the attacks on Africans in South Africa. This is selective morality and double standards.

Those trying to link xenophobia in South Africa to the situation in Zimbabwe do not explain why Mozambicans, Malawians, Zambians and even Nigerians in their thousands are in South Africa and are caught up in the current situation there.

African media must seek to free itself from foreign influence and must chart its own cause in line with the challenges that face the continent. The free nations of Africa need a free media and not one that acts like proxies of others.

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