We are told that the media must always strive to be objective; that they have to ensure that both sides to the story are told in equal measure. And that’s the essence of the media, and the main reason why journalists tend to command enviable public trust.
We also know that the media do not operate in a vacuum, but within a particular setting composed of a mixture of realities.
Indeed it is important for the media to work in a way that reflects the realities within which they operate, or those that concern their reports, as much as ensuring that they are seen to be taking a neutral stand. The media draw their legitimacy and relevancy from their neutrality and objectivity.
Nonetheless, there is one thing that the media tend to ignore – and that is the universal principle of moral/professional consciousness. The media need to remain sober and accurate in all situations, and, therefore, it is never enough to say ‘look I just quoted so and so’. For instance, journalists have an inherent responsibility to protect society from extremist ideologies simply because the media work for society. When the media allow themselves to serve as conduits for, for instance, genocide ideology, they betray the enviable and exclusive public trust they enjoy, and they should be held responsible for the consequences. This is a universal principle whose application should not depend on who has suffered the consequences of irresponsible journalism, or which country or group of people have been victimized in the process.
However, we see that the media quite often do not observe the sensitivities associated with their work in communities in other countries. This is most evident when the western media report about non-western societies; this part of the media world tends to make judgments that are based on the realities in their own countries and their own cultures, even though they know very well that this is a world of unlimited cultural diversities. The western media organizations continue to look at the world through their own lenses, and have no regrets for imposing hypothesis on societies in far-flung parts of the world.
Yet I refuse to entirely blame their ignorance. Take the example of Rwanda: the western media often hide behind ‘neutrality and ‘objective reporting’, to give platform to well known genocide deniers and revisionists, and anyone who sympathises with the regime that attempted to annihilate the Tutsi in 1994, yet they will not dare give airtime and space to pro-Nazi ideologues. While reporting on North America and Europe, they are keen to use their moral and professional conscience not to hurt the feelings of their western audiences, but practice the worst form of irresponsible journalism when it concerns to Africa and other non-western territories.
To the majority of them, it is big news when anybody wakes up any day, and denounces an African leader, or comes up with wild hypothesis that seek to rewrite history. They happily jump on the ‘story’, and openly promote that version with little regard to whatever sensitivities it may carry. They get so obsessed with such versions, so much they brush aside whatever facts that point to the contrary. Other opportunists and self-seekers will also look to exploit the same allegations, in pursuit of selfish interests.
Unfortunately, that is the world we live in.
Nonetheless, the African media, which not only understand the contexts and realities of Africa, but also care about the continent more than their western counterparts, will need to rise up to the challenge and, like this column has stated before, boldly tell the African story.
The truth is that much of the literature about Africa has been written by biased western authors. As such, most of the research work about the continent continues to miss the real African story. To reverse this trend, African media and authors will need to take charge of content generation about their own continent. They understand the varied African sensitivities, and are certainly best placed to unveil the continent in its true image.
Until then, we will continue to be misrepresented and thus misunderstood.