What should Africaís media do to change our continentís image?
Last week on May 3, Rwanda and the rest of the world celebrated the World Press Freedom Day. No doubt press freedom is one of the most precious rights that underpin any other freedom. In a joint message on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon and the UNESCO Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, underscored the importance of media freedom that “entails the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This freedom is essential for healthy and vibrant societies”.
Indeed Thomas Jefferson, the third United States President once observed that “the press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being”.
With regard to Africa, the media has consistently highlighted the darker side of our continent at the expense of positive developments that are taking place. On a daily basis our papers seem to derive pleasure in churning out stories about the misery and hunger that have become a common feature of our lives. Sometimes outsiders get the impression that many of our countries are on the brink of disintegration or are ‘failed states’, or fragile states, a common post-cold war parlance. African governments are being portrayed as having abdicated their responsibilities and their citizens struggling in the ‘cold’ to fend for themselves. Stories of HIV/Aids, genocide in Darfur, looming war between Khartoum and Juba, the political impasse in Guinea Bissau and recent constitutional crisis in Mali constitute a daily menu.
Despite the bleak picture created by our increasingly versatile and at times bellicose media, there is more that is happening on our continent that misses the reporter’s eye. The number of tourists, stock markets and financial institutions are evidently on the increase. An increase in tourists to sub-Saharan Africa has for instance, according to a recent BBC report, brought in nearly $ 350 billion. There is an increasing number of internet cafes in our region, and people with disposable incomes are slowly but surely on the increase. This is what some people call “that part of our continent that works” – and it needs to be highlighted lest we create a permanent image of a continent that may never pull out of the periphery of the global economy.
It is true that Rwanda that nearly sank through the abyss of the Genocide against the Tutsi eighteen years ago has made miraculous recovery but there is a lot more that remains to be done. Rwanda’s vibrant media has not been of much help either in the process of this country’s post-Genocide reconstruction. Our private media will need a lot of transformation and change if it is to become professional.
Despite the foregoing, the private media is contributing in significant ways towards democratic governance and accountability on the part of state officials. But there must be some introspection and change in the private media’s patterns of operation, if they are not to be self-destructive. What is perhaps more important for the media is for them to find ways of incorporating the hitherto marginalised elements of society into the mainstream democratic discourse.
What the Western media have done better than our own is to downplay all those ugly scenes that would frighten would be visitors and investors: And they are not few: Think of 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing by Steven Macfey, numerous school shootings, the Basque separatists of Spain, the many bombings by terrorists in Western capitals and so on. When a terrorist succeeds in detonating a bomb in one of our cities, warnings are instantaneously flashed out by embassies blacklisting our countries. Must our media play in the hands of the Western media houses? And what does national interest mean to our media? Of course I remain acutely aware of journalists’ reluctance to pursue the so-called “positive stories” that do not win awards.
Contact email: oscar_kim2000[at]yahoo.co.uk