How do international newsrooms reporting on Africa fare on diversity, inclusion?

Rwandan and foreign journalists cover the presidential elections in Kigali in 2017. / Photo: S. Ngendahimana.

A survey on 47 international newsrooms that report on Africa reveals that while these outlets consider diversity and inclusion very important and that they strive to recruit more diverse teams, it is, most likely, easier said than done.

This is highlighted in an article published Wednesday, August 12, by African Arguments, a pan-African platform for news, investigation and opinion seeking to analyse issues facing the continent.

 

“This conversation isn’t new. Foreign journalists have frequently been accused of racism or mischaracterizing the countries they report on – whether justifiably or to deflect attention. We wanted to provide a quick snapshot of diversity in our industry today, to spark debate rather than provide any definitive answers,” reads a section of the article.

 

As noted, African Arguments focused on journalists of colour reporting on Africa.

 

The survey’s first question asked about the importance of diversity.

International newsrooms including Associated Press, The Economist and Le Monde emphasised the importance of diversity and inclusion.

But while reporters spoken to during the survey agreed that even though their origins allowed them to do better journalism, “it’s an issue that there aren’t enough journalists of African origins.”

A journalist born in an African country and grew up in France, added that her background was used against her.

“In Anglophone newsrooms…there’s no suspicion that you lack objectivity… [but] in France, I was told ‘you’re from [African country X] so you can’t work on [that country]’”, she is quoted. “You have value when you open your contact book, but you don’t have value to tell the story yourself because they’ll say that you’re not objective.”

The many forms of discrimination

When it comes to how discrimination happens, a “recent interview” with Laurent Joffrin, former editor of Libération, described the process from the hiring side.

“Often, [our] recruitment is done by co-optation so people tend to introduce people…who resemble them,” he said. “I don’t think there’s necessarily a mechanism of racial prejudice. However, there’s unavoidably a mechanism of social reproduction.”

It is noted that a French newspaper – which did not respond to African Arguments’ survey – employs 150 staff, of whom just three are Black.

Many other barriers for people of colour getting into media, such as parental pressure against creative jobs, unpaid internships, recruitments advertised by word of mouth, and discrimination against non-Western-sounding names are noted.

The article notes that there are so many obstacles that people are facing “getting in” but the barriers “don’t end once journalists of colour are recruited.”

“The black reporters we spoke to emphasised that discrimination continues in the job.”

Gaelle, an African journalist reporting from her home country is quoted saying: “Our editorial freedom is limited because we still have to tell the stories we pitch through a white lens…I [also] discovered that…the stipend I receive for [articles] is lower than what the reporters coming to Africa would get.”

Mercy, a young journalist who grew up in the UK and whose parents were born in an African country, described struggling to fit in at a prestigious outlet where she was the only black person and one of few journalists from a modest background.

It is noted that despite her efforts, she didn’t get the same opportunities as her peers and she saw this as her own failure, which hurt her self-confidence for months.

In Nairobi, Kenya, a lady who has worked for an international outlet based there told The New Times that “sometimes you pitch a story and they tell you already so and so is on it... only for you to realize that you gave them an idea and it is their white journalist who will write it.”

“I once did a story; field work, interviews, quotes and all, only for me to see my story is a shared byline by a white journalist. The only new thing added to the story was a World Health Organisation quote. It was so heartbreaking.”

“And there are times they will call asking for contacts and views on a story they are working on because they can’t assign you the story, it has to be their white journalist writing it. You provide the material and you get nothing! It is so hard to pitch stories and compete with their white journalists here.”

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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