(UCLA study – initial post 2005)
Media need to see the positive in Africa, IPI congress told
The International Press Institute world congress in Nairobi has been told that African leaders should shoulder some of the blame for the negative reportage the continent receives from the western media, reports Eric Nyakagwa.
The IPI’s 54th general assembly is currently underway in Kenya’s capital.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said it was the primary responsibility of the African people, and especially its leaders, to address the continent’s woes, which provide fodder for negative reports in the foreign and local media.
Giving a keynote address during a session on “Reporting on Africa”, Kagame noted that Africans cannot pass the blame when the continent loses her people thanks to neglect and lack of foresight on the part of its leadership, as in the cyclical armed conflicts.
However, he took issue with the tendency by the western media to portray Africa as a continent of “doom and gloom”.
He agreed with assertions that the western media tends to overplay the negative side of events in Africa to serve their “domestic audiences, corporate interests and home governments”.
The Chief Correspondent at the Reuters Southern Africa Bureau John Chiahemen, however, said any media house that portrays the continent negatively would be “heading towards its extinction in the global village that the world has become.
Kenya Broadcasting Corporation Chief Executive Wachira Waruru accused the western media of ignoring major happenings in Africa simply because they are perceived to be of no interest to their consumers.
He cited the CNN reporting of the Kenya Airways disaster in Abidjan where the global television channel lost interest of the story as soon as it was “established that no western national were on board”.
Waruru said it took Kenyan journalists who were flown to Abidjan by the airline for Kenyans to establish what really happened and to give a human face to the tragedy, something, he said, CNN had failed to do.
Kagame used the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which close to 1 million moderate Hutus and minority Tutsis lost their lives, as an illustration, and said the country had since shown its determination to rebuild itself, even without a Marshall plan like that used to rebuild Europe after the Second World war.
The portrayal of Africa as a “continent of brute savages inclined to kill each other when an opportunity arose” is wrong as there are many achievements on the continent that go unreported.
Kagame said it was unfortunate that such achievements do not make material for newspaper headlines and where they find their way to the news media, they are accompanied with qualifications that end up reducing their value.
He said the western media needs to understand Africa’s history and the factors and forces that inhibit her development as well as the set of beliefs and values that govern its affairs.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, who officially opened the congress, announced plans to enact a Freedom of Information Act.
Kibaki, however, challenged the media to temper press freedom with responsibility, noting that the press can either build or destroy, unite or divide people.
The Aga Khan, the Imam of Ismaili Muslims who owns the Nation Media Group, East Africas largest media house, called on media managers to invest in quality journalism instead of concentrating on making profits.
He cautioned that the abandonment of value-driven journalism would be disastrous.
“It is dangerous for the media to lose touch with its public service role. There would be particularly adverse effects inAfrica, if the traditional value system is to be turned on its head, in pursuit of profits,” he said.
The sentiments were echoed by IPI director Prof Johann Fritz, who warned that the media could easily lose its role as a public watchdog in the face of a rising class of media owners whose first objective is profit.
Other issues being debated at the four-day event include how to attract investment for Africa, press freedom issues,Africa’s experience on pluralism and democracy and reporting on the Islamic world.
Also the over 300 delegates will brainstorm on the emotive issue of terrorism and civil liberties and the role of the media in ensuring good governance.