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Is International Media Reporting Holding Back Africa? Analysing the problems with the coverage of Africa and proposing some solutions
31 JANUARY 2018
AFRICA MEDIA COVERAGE REPORT
CONTENTS Introduction How can African journalism best defend the public interest? By Patrick Smith
I. What is the problem with international reporting on Africa? West Africa by Lansana Gberie
Nigeria by Eromo Egbejule
East Africa by Parselelo Kantai
II. Africa and the world—the media gap China and Africa by Sophia Yan
India and Africa by Ankit Panda
Italy and Africa by Lorenzo Bagnoli and Michele Luppi
Greece and Africa by Daniel Howden
Migration and Africa by Daniel Howden
III. Are stronger African media organisations part of the solution? What is their track record and what are the challenges? Conclusions
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Introduction: How Can African Journalism Best Defend the Public Interest? The over-arching question this report tries to address is how to boost journalism in and about Africa. That is, to strengthen its capacity to hold political, economic and military power— international and national—to account. This means finding ways to counter the imbalance and inequities in the global information industry. Some of these are historic legacies from the colonial era, others from more recent geopolitical shifts and concentrations of economic power in North America and Asia. According to Credit Suisse, the richest one percent of the world now own assets worth US$103 trillion or half the world’s wealth, the greatest concentration of assets since 1900. In Africa, the implications of global inequality are at the sharpest. Such conditions test the determination and resourcefulness of journalists to scrutinize the dominant political and business interests. It also involves identifying the most effective ways to use the pioneering technology that has been challenging the traditional media companies and publishers. Just as the exponential growth in cellphone usage in Africa has allowed the continent to leapfrog traditional communications technology, the headlong growth of social media platforms in the region has fired up a revolution in the publishing and creative worlds. Nor will the pace of change slacken over the next decade with the growing prevalence of computer-assisted reporting and data journalism. Artificial Intelligence is already making its presence felt in the newsroom, opening up possibilities of vastly speeded-up newsgathering and dissemination. It can research and analyse data sets on complex reporting projects that would have previously demanded a large team of journalists. Simultaneously, it could exacerbate the problems of poor reporting based on stereotypes and prejudices; equally, it may be more open to manipulation by powerful interests.
All this comes at a time when trust in established institutions—including newspapers and broadcasters—has hit historic lows. This crisis in public life, evident in North America and Europe as much as in Africa, means that journalists are seen by many as part of the same established structures that have forfeited popular trust. Political leaders across the world have exploited and amplified misgivings about the media with attack phrases such as ‘fake news’, widely used to reject reports that might question their competence and integrity or help their opponents. Accordingly, the media’s role of championing the ‘public interest’ is getting far more contested and complex. Good and reliable journalism should not only earn the trust of the people it serves but should encourage them to participate in public life. New forms of civic activism are growing up as people reassert their power to change things. It can be trades unionists protesting against tax evasion by big corporations, students demanding free education and the removal of colonial-era statues, national campaigns for women’s rights or even small-scale sustainable energy projects. Old national barriers are eroding. For example, the #bringbackourgirls campaign launched in Nigeria on behalf of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls flashed around the world. Within hours, First Lady Michelle Obama had endorsed it, speedily giving it international resonance. It is a new politics demanding a new journalism. News organizations can contribute to these debates: by ensuring that their reports are accurate and well written and edited but also they can become a platform for new ideas and alternatives that can foster social progress. Journalists will have to innovate more in every way, to cover the subjects and regions that are neglected, giving a loudhailer to the voiceless. Old barriers between journalists and their audience are breaking,
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partly due to the popularity of social media. New communities—where people read, listen, watch, respond to journalism and share it with the friends—are growing up. These are sidelining the old media hierarchies, in Africa, Asia or the West. A key critique about reporting on Africa in the international media—and its local counterparts— is that it doesn’t talk to the societies that it writes about. Its journalists, too often, are removed in class or sometimes in ethnic or national terms, from the audience for which they are writing. When its coverage holds up a distorting mirror to Africa, international media can have real power on the ground. It is relayed through the international system, political and economic institutions, network news channels right down to the financial ratings agencies. Six decades after most African countries won Independence, the gatekeepers of information on the continent—financial newspapers, news agencies and international television news networks—are firmly grounded in the western metropolis. Complaints about the marginalization of Africa by the Western media dates back to the early days of the Independence era. In Europe, neo-colonial interests—the French-backed currency zone in West and Central Africa or the interests of British settlers in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa—dominated coverage. Big, complex and resource-rich countries such as Congo and Nigeria were under-reported. Perhaps it was feared that investigative journalists might take too close an interest in the corrupt and exploitative agreements between big companies and local political elites. Only when national crises in Congo and Nigeria—such as secessionism and civil war—appeared to threaten geopolitical interests did they attract the attention of national newspapers in the west or television stations.
Until 1990, western and Soviet coverage of Africa was dominated by Cold War rivalries. Through that prism, battles over ideology and strategic interests, access to resources and votes in the UN General Assembly, were played out. For the next twenty years coverage of Africa for foreign media organizations dwindled, rallying only for the euphoric heights of the release of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s first non-racial election four years later. The horrific wars in Angola, Algeria, Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Somalia—which to a greater or lesser extent were driven by Cold War politics—were sporadically reported in the 1990s and 2000s. But they were seen as peripheral to the main narratives about global developments. There was a stirring of interest in Islamist insurgency groups in countries such as Sudan and Somalia after the synchronized bombing of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. And then again in the aftermath of the attacks on New York in September 2001. By the late 2000s, some international news organizations such as the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Guardian and Bloomberg News, started to pay more attention to the economic story in Africa. A combination of better macro-economic management and soaring demand from China for commodities was driving record growth rates across Africa. Analysts were prompted to ask whether African economies were following the supercharged development of East Asian economies in the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past decade, media coverage has become much more variegated, reflecting the range of countries seeking economic, political and security deals in Africa. Most dramatically, there is the rapid growth of Chinese trade and investment, making Beijing the most important economic partner in
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quantitative terms for most African states. This has belatedly been accompanied by a great scaling up of China’s media presence in Africa, its soft power and attempts to manage its image. India is following in the slipstream, building close ties with the energy-rich countries on Africa’s eastern seaboard, but has also replaced the US as the biggest customer for Nigeria’s oil exports. It is more corporate-led, in comparison to Beijing’s state-led trade effort. India’s commercial campaign has encouraged some cheerleaders, but also some sceptics, to look more closely at its relations with Africa. As economic and strategic interests in Africa are diversifying—Brazil, Russia, Turkey, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran—so are the range of foreign media on the continent. It is too early to discern what effect this will have on international narratives about Africa. The hope is that journalists from Africa’s new partner countries will be more forward-looking and less prone to recycling the colonial shibboleths taken on board by many of their European or American counterparts. Such expectations should be leavened by the history of harsh state controls on media in countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Without doubt, the West’s near monopoly on the international media narratives on Africa has been punctured. The dominance of the old news agencies—Reuters, Agence France Press and Associated Press—is over, as is the broadcasting ascendancy of the BBC and latterly, CNN. Most innovative among the new arrivals, Qatar’s Al Jazeera came into its own with the eruption of protests and rebellions known as the Arab Spring in North Africa in 2011. Although China’s CCTV and Xinhua news agency are even better-funded and more pervasive, they are yet to establish the reputation for journalist
excellence achieved by Al Jazeera’s service in English. It may be that Al Jazeera English proves to be a blip: its owners, the ruling family in Qatar, saw diplomatic value in having a high quality international media outlet in the wake of the Arab Spring and Doha’s search for power and influence. This will be tested in Africa, and in the wider region, as Qatar’s diplomatic tussle with the Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman plays out. Editorial content in Al Jazeera Arabic, with its strong backing for groups linked to the Ikhwan/Muslim Brothers, has always been much more strictly controlled. It’s not just political agendas and commercial limits shaping international image-making and coverage of Africa: there are also important cultural and cognitive restraints, especially among Western reporters. Researchers into media representations of Africa such as Ama Biney,1 Daniel Mengara,2 Japhace Poncian3 and Nanjala Nyambola4 have identified a series of signifiers that point to superficial, distorted and stereotypical coverage of Africa. At their worst, these signifiers have generated an image of a continent perpetually in crisis, where social and economic advances are critically dependent on outsiders. These signifiers, relayed by news organizations, are often unconscious reinforcers of a particular Western view of Africa, rooted in the depredations of the colonial and post-colonial era. The most prevalent examples include: • The Big Man theory of history: explanation of developments, almost exclusively in terms of conflicts between leaders; • Marginalize political movements, civil society and ideology: politics is a clash of personalities, the more eccentric the better, or leaders; • Monoglot observers: few reporters speak local
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languages, so information and opinion are mediated through translation; • Lack of context: reporting of events without any historical or cultural backdrop and could relate them to other developments; • Africa is a single story: disaster reporting, focus on revolts, wars, famines, epidemics, origin of HIV and AIDS that affect a minority; • No normality in Africa: few reports on the conditions under which most people live and what they do with fashion, art, music and sport (except football and athletics tournaments); • Hyper-selectivity: choosing items that reinforce the dominant post-colonial narratives and geopolitics that determine news worthiness; • Lack of shading: even in complex crises, developments are explained in binary terms. Sometimes these signifiers are a cultural reflex among Western reporters, but sometimes they are instrumental to an organization’s aims. Cashstrapped new operations, having closed most of their bureaus in Africa and cut down on international travel, are often eager for invitations by international non-governmental organizations to crisis zones. This sort of disaster reporting, because the NGO determines the itinerary, and sometimes the persons put up for interview, produce a narrative, intrinsically sympathetic to the organization and the foreign nationals that work for it. This is instrumental in that it promotes the image of the NGO as engaged and effective on the ground in a crisis. That is designed to mobilize the public’s conscience and elicit donations. However, it has another more malign, if unintended, consequence of portraying local people caught up in the crisis as helpless victims in need of outside help. Those tendencies triggered an intense debate on social media, in the USA and many African states, over
what the Nigerian writer Teju Cole called ‘The White Industrial Saviour Complex’. In response to the failure of the established channels for journalism to keep up with the fast-changing economic, political and cultural realities on the ground, younger audiences are forsaking local and foreign newspapers and even television stations for news feeds on Facebook or WhatsApp groups. Now the old established media is playing catch-up. Africa’s own media companies have been held back by a lack of capital. And they mainly prefer national or regional operations to pan-African ones. The hope that a liberated South Africa would unleash a surge of creative media talent has been only partially fulfilled. Some publishing houses have responded to the post-apartheid era counter-intuitively. Despite higher growth rates, growing literacy and a bigger consumer market, they cut production, marketing and costs. Circulation of the broadsheet newspapers has fallen off a cliff. For example, the Sunday Times was selling almost three million newspapers a week, two decades ago; today the circulation is about a tenth of that. Stalwart dailies such as the Star in Johannesburg and the Cape Times have followed a similar trajectory. Into the market have come a mixture of sensationalist tabloids and politicallyconnected broadsheets. Some entrants are ploughing new ground, such as websites carrying analysis and investigations, but few of them have proved commercially sustainable so far. That’s a challenge that will examined in the final section of this report. The press and broadcast media in Nigeria and Kenya have a reputation for being among the liveliest and boldest on the continent. But it too has come under increasing commercial and, more recently, political pressure as two distinguished
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journalists from those countries point out in the following section. More widely, the reach of independent newspapers, websites and local radio is held back by lack of resources. Funding shortfalls render news organizations vulnerable to outside commercial and political pressure, if not outright threats and bribery. many of their brightest stars leave journalism for better rewards in the corporate world. Outside a job in the state information bureaucracy, there are precious few opportunities for senior African journalists. In countries such as Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Ethiopia, independent journalists face growing pressure from state functionaries and corporations. Yet in many of these countries, brave journalists are pushing the boundaries of investigations and commentary. Technology can offer a shield of sorts, anonymity or the power of crowds, to journalistic critics. Social media—Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Yelp etc—are becoming the preferred carrier of news in Africa. Much social media content is a hybrid. The posts mix outspoken local comment but often draw on traditional print and broadcast media. Media companies are giving their journalists a clear message: interact with your audience or quit. Metrics derived from analytics on media companies’ websites give an immediate accurate record of the popularity of a given writer or report. They also log the audience’s comments, making journalists far more accountable than in the past. African audiences have seized these opportunities with particular enthusiasm to lambast or applaud writers and broadcasters. Digital journalism will race up a steep hill in Africa over the next decade, driven by the rapid spread of
internet-enabled or smart phones. From less than 100 million smart phones in 2015, the forecast is for over 500 million by 2020 and these will become the main vehicle for purveying news. Local and regional news sites and phone news operations are winning bigger audiences but the business models are often shaky, combining local commercial backing with foreign pro-bono funding. Wholly foreign-owned operations such as Le Monde Afrique and the US-based Atlantic Monthly with its Quartz Africa website are achieving some success, but the economics remain shaky. They have produced some scoops and deftly-packaged stories relayed across social media platforms but are not yet generating substantial income. Media companies in Africa have to be light on their feet to survive, let alone prosper. Any organization trying to cover Africa has to use all the new landscape—social media, website, podcasts, radio, video and print—for commercial and editorial reasons. Africa, like South Asia, is one of the few regions where print journalism, financed by advertising, is still growing. No one knows for how long. Certainly, the transition to a digital-dominated landscape has started and is speeding up. Efforts to make money from news or commentbased websites are struggling, even in the richest markets. Yet the output of news and comment from the BBC, AllAfrica.com, Huffington Post, The Conversation, Project Syndicate together with national news sites means that most readers in Africa expect information for free. There are exceptions. Millions subscribe to cable news and sports channels, to newspapers and magazines; news services for subscribers via smart phone are expanding. Street sales of newspapers and magazines remain significant in Africa and could still rebound.
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The appetite for reliable and independent news in Africa is growing fast, driven by better literacy rates and technological connectivity. Foreign interest rose sharply during the Africa Rising interregnum but continues in the current economic hangover period. International businesses want to know more about political and financial risk, diplomats and spies want to know more about geo-political rivalries and security threats, while western and Asian youth want to know more about African activism, culture and sport. As the following chapters in this report show, there is a clear recognition of the shortcomings of journalism in and about Africa but also of the growing demand for accurate information and vivid portrayals of the continent. In turn, these analyses lay the ground-work for actions, policies and initiatives, in the public and the commercial sphere, that can work effectively with Africa’s journalists and their organizations.
Notes 1. The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah, London, Palgrave-MacMillan 2011 2. La représentation des groups sociaux chez les romanciers noirs sud-africains: Réalisme, falsifica-tion ou idealization, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2000. 3. The persistence of western negative perceptions about Africa: Factoring in the role of Africans, Dar-es-Salaam, 2015 4. ‘Why do Western media get Africa wrong?’ Al Jazeera, 2014
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Reporting West Africa to the West: War and Peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone Lansana Gberie For much of the 1990s I was, as a ‘freelance’ reporter for an international news agency and other media outlets, what might be described as a war correspondent. I would have found the description misleading and undesirable, if not absurd. True, I was mostly reporting the civil war in Sierra Leone. But I was not ‘foreign’ in that country, and had not gone there report back to my home audience what I was seeing. The war had met me there and had intruded into my life. Journalism was not what I was doing, nor what I wanted to do, when the war started in Sierra Leone in 1991; I was still at university. It was a dangerous profession at the time, and there was really no financial reward from it. Within a few years after it started, the war engulfed the country with a destructive force. Friends on holiday in their villages were abducted and forcibly recruited by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels; and within a few years large parts of the country had been destroyed and thousands of people killed. I thought that I wasn’t learning much about the war from either the government, which was corrupt and inept, or from the local media, which, without sufficient resources, limited its coverage of the war to gruesome but oddly still etiolated testimonies of survivors or soldiers encountered in Freetown. For many people hungry for real news, the BBC, the great broadcaster from Sierra Leone’s former colonial ruler, was where to look. Its correspondents seemed to have preternatural access. The BBC was where we first heard from both Charles Taylor, who soon emerged as Liberia’s most feared warlord, and from Foday Sankoh, his poor and inarticulate mimic whose ravages made Sierra Leone ungovernable in 1990s. It was the outlet these figures used to announce their war aims, such as they were, in interviews with its Londonbased correspondents, mainly Robin White of the corporation’s African Service. Government
officials in both Liberia and Sierra Leone mumbled, sometimes incoherently, that the BBC was irresponsibly providing a platform for bandits, but ordinary citizens dismissed those concerns: the governments were venal and untrustworthy, the foreign media far more credible. I decided I wanted to be a journalist, a correspondent for a foreign news agency, in part because of the glamour of the BBC coverage of warrelated events. Even so, I avoided what was sedately referred to at the time as the ‘warfront’—which was really an indeterminate and sprawling region, at various times anywhere outside of Freetown. I did not venture into obviously dangerous places to get ‘exclusive’ reports or photographs, and never thought I should, though this care or cowardice was hardly an insurance: some colleagues would later get killed in the safety of their homes in Freetown by marauding ‘rebels’. I tried to understand the war by investigating elite attitudes to it in Freetown, as well as from interviews with Liberian exiled politicians; and I thought I scored my journalistic coup in early 1996 when I became the first from Sierra Leone to meet and interview RUF leader Sankoh in neighbouring, and safe, Côte d’Ivoire. Before that he was for many people in Sierra Leone more or less a disembodied voice occasionally heard on the BBC. This memory came to me when I recently read a section of Liberia’s 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) devoted to international media reporting of that country’s civil war in the 1990s and 2000s. Partly because of the outsized impact of international media reportage on the conflict, Liberia’s TRC was the first ever to systematically investigate Western media coverage of an African conflict. I use the word ‘Western’ advisedly— because this is what international media presence really amounted to. The commission held a special public hearing in Monrovia in 2008 at which it questioned the following journalists (who
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flew into the country and appeared before the commission voluntarily): Robin White (formerly of the BBC),
William Burke (formerly of CNN), Steven Ellis (historian and formerly editor of Africa Confidential) and several others. It interviewed, off camera, Elizabeth Blunt (also formerly of the BBC), who had been an eyewitness to the capture and execution of President Samuel Kanyon Doe by the forces of Prince Johnson at Caldwell Base in Monrovia. The section of the TRC report read in part: [Charles] Taylor’s targeting of the international press [was] insidious. For example, Taylor used the BBC’s expansive reach to further the propaganda that he was distributing [sic] on transmitters capable of reaching only parts of the country. Taylor used satellite phones to call the BBC and report AFL [Armed Forces of Liberia, the official army] killings, which the BBC broadcasted across the country. Taylor also used the BBC to ‘regularly blast the international airwaves with stories of overwhelming NPFL success…Taylor’s regular BBC interviews helped accelerate the AFL’s demoralisation and intensify public panic. Such use by the BBC also boosted the notoriety of NPFL, and the resulting increase in popularity resulted in large recruiting gains during Taylor’s campaign through the hinterland into Monrovia. Also, Taylor used the BBC to announce plans of future attack. Not only did this terrorise the nation, but civilians would flee when they heard that their homes were in Taylor’s path, making it much easier for Taylor to dominate the country… [emphasis mine]1
This extraordinary charge—in effect accusing the world’s largest, and one of its most powerful, media organizations of being naively or deliberately complicit in the killing of thousands of people and the destruction of a country—got zero coverage anywhere. The BBC itself has never mentioned it. This may have been because this section was not
part of the main, consolidated, report (which itself was largely ignored); it was part of its appendixes. It would be unfair not to mention that during their interviews with the TRC, the BBC correspondents vigorously denied the implications of the charge— and their views are cited in the report. Elizabeth Blunt, for example, told the TRC that because the government was not letting out information about the course of the war, and the local media was handicapped by lack of resources, “if the BBC had not been reporting out of Liberia quite intensively people would have had no idea what was going on. . . they would not have known which areas were safe, which areas were dangerous, which roads were open, which way not to go. It would have been a complete black hole in terms of information.” She added that the rebels did not need the assistance of the media to terrorize the country because they “just grabbed whatever they could and I do not think anything that I broadcast, or anybody else broadcast, would have made any difference” during the early stages of the conflict.2 Robin White made a similar claim: “We did not let anyone on air who would issue a threat. We would not let that go out.” He added that if the BBC had not persistently got Taylor on air, “there would have been silence because the government itself did not say anything. That was their game—it was to say nothing.”3 I do not think it is fair to blame the international media, in this case the BBC, for stepping into an information void and in the process dominating news about the Liberian civil war, a foreign conflict, to such an extent that at one point it was referred to by some people as “the BBC’s War.”4 But the claim by both Blunt and White, doubtless made in the grand spirit of diffidence that is sometimes associated with the BBC, is disingenuous. In my book about the related war in Sierra Leone, A Dirty War in West Africa,5 I documented a glaring case in which the BBC may well have aided a particularly horrific atrocity: ‘Operation No Living Thing,’
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announced in 1998 by RUF forces commander Sam Bockarie (alias Maskita or Mosquito) in a statement broadcast on the BBC African Service during which he threatened to kill everyone in the country “to the last chicken.” The broadcast so outraged then British High Commissioner in Sierra Leone Peter Penfold that he called BBC management in London and complained. He described it as “a form of murderous incitement which, if issued against British citizens, would certainly never have been broadcast by the BBC.”6 The truth was that the internal communications infrastructure of the RUF leadership was rather poor; and with fighters operating in various locations in the country during the latter stages of the war, rebel commanders adeptly used the BBC to communicate orders to their fighters in the bush. According to several ex-RUF combatants I spoke to in Freetown in April 2002, a broadcast from Bockarie threatening, for example, to attack Freetown in a week, would be interpreted as an order by the scattered RUF fighters to move towards the city. In assessing the international media coverage of the civil war in his country, Sierra Leonean academic Richard Tamba M’bayo, a noted media scholar, was unsparing. He wrote: “The international media intentionally or unintentionally have become selfsustaining platforms for rebel groups and those who engage in extreme acts of violence as a form of political communications.” He criticized “the unhindered media given to Taylor” which, he wrote, impacted negatively on the peace process.7
Cultural Prejudice? There is little doubt that the BBC and other international media that produced this effect never intended such an outcome; indeed, though disingenuous, the protests of Blunt and White were sincerely felt. It would be unjust to label them as enablers who were insensitive to the suffering
that their work might have helped, probably inadvertently, to facilitate. The question then is: did the environment in which they operated—cultural, historical, economic, technological and political— force this choice on them? Did they have a choice? Could they have reported differently? My former colleague during my years as a reporter in Freetown, Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, now an academic, has detected mainly cultural biases rather than economic or professional considerations in the poor and sometimes harmful media coverage of the conflict in Sierra Leone. He writes that visiting journalists were often burdened by easy assumptions about Africa, and upon encountering a difficult-to-explain conflict like the RUF war quickly fell back on stereotypes about African savagery, corruption, tribalism and states collapsing because of native incompetence. Few bother to dig deeper to understand the undercurrents of natural resource exploitation or predation, the role of arms and diamond smugglers, Western mining interests, and the degradation caused by unfair commercial practices.8 Inherent cultural prejudices—what might be more bluntly called racism—certainly play a role, perhaps unconsciously. And the best Western correspondents have been those journalists who were aware of this pitfall, and very consciously tried not to fall prey to it. For this article I interviewed, via email, three of the best American and British journalists who were based in the West Africa in the 1990s and 2000s, during the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They were Howard French (New York Times), Douglas Farah (Washington Post), and Mark Doyle (BBC). They were all West Africa bureau chiefs (Farah the second and last for the Washington Post). All three are no longer staff members of their former employers. Mark Doyle was direct and unequivocal. “White liberal journalists do not commit racism deliberately,” Doyle (who is white) wrote in an
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email on 4 December 2017. “I don’t believe they relish it. But they are caught up in the system. Editors will breezily admit it would take five hundred Africans to die to make a story while one white settler farmer’s death in Zimbabwe or Kenya would be enough to make a headline. These tendencies have to be fought against all the time. Constantly.” He added: Racism is powerful. It is systemic and almost automatic because it suits those at the top of the system. Journalists are not immune from that. Sometimes, the racism is more subtle. For example, African wars are often described as ‘chaotic’. They are not, of course—they are usually serving somebody’s purpose (usually financial) but finding out how or why is difficult. The pervading racism allows us to sometimes get away with saying a situation is chaotic in Africa when we would likely not say the same in Europe, where everything has to have a reason.
Doyle reported mostly for BBC World Service radio, not the ‘Focus on Africa’ programme for which Blunt and White laboured, and which is widely popular and influential in Liberia and Sierra Leone. “This was an enormous responsibility,” Doyle wrote, “which encouraged me to try to get it right. It also opened many doors for me—it meant I had access that some other journalists did not. I was very aware that what I was reporting could on some occasions actually change the situation on the ground.” Perhaps it is pointless to compare this approach to the attitude that White and Blunt affected when confronted by Liberia’s TRC, but one can’t help noticing the difference. Doyle continued: “I met many people in Sierra Leone, for example, who were convinced that my reporting had led to the intervention of the British army on the “right” side in the war. I don’t think this is true, but the fact that even some Sierra Leoneans thought it was sobering.” Doyle also noted: “It was… an
observable fact that when the popular BBC Focus on Africa programme came on air in wartime Liberia the shooting died down as combatants tuned in—again, this was indicative of a terrifying responsibility to try to get stories right.” Howard French (African American), cerebral and thoughtful, sees something deeper, deliberate and calculated in the bad journalism on Africa. He wrote (6 December 2017): I would say that the sporadic, lightweight and often poor coverage of Africa is a reflection of something much bigger: a long-term historical effort in the West to underplay Africa’s significance and value in the scheme of human endeavours. I would surmise this is substantially driven by guilt or by what would be called mauvaise conscience in French. Africa has been of immense importance to the emergence of the West and to its continued standing in the world, but to acknowledge this would be to undermine many of the West’s most cherished notions about itself. That is because of the atrocious modes of engagement the West has followed over the centuries - up to the present day. This negation or suppression requires serious mental effort, but it is also in a way self-fulfilling. Feeding people ignorance about Africa and about the West’s history in Africa breed dismissive or even scornful public attitudes toward the continent, which in turn perpetuates the environment of permissiveness that allows further exploitation and mistreatment of the continent to continue… In the Sierra Leonean and especially Liberian civil wars, if one could get past sensationalistic images of fighters who supposedly commonly dressed in wedding gowns (I do not believe this) and of ritual cannibalism one could find the lineaments, however tragic, of real African geopolitics. By this, I mean of regional actors, from Nigeria and Guinea to Ivory Coast and Ghana trying to articulate and pursue their own varied
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interests. These circumstances have been played out in every part of the world in not so distant history. This is not an attempt to downplay the humanitarian tragedy or the base greed involved, but rather to try to understand Africa less as a space on the margins of the rest of humanity, and more as a perfect representative of mankind.
The reporting on Africa by both Doyle and French was exemplary; it helped to explain and contextualize the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and probably contributed to the resolution of those conflicts. The same can be said of the investigative journalism of Farah, whose reporting for The Washington Post on the criminalized network of ‘blood diamond’ dealers, arms traders, and terrorists that converged on Liberia during the catastrophic reign of Charles Taylor influenced the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme as well as the prosecution of Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Farah found my question about the voyeurism of Western media coverage of African conflict offensive. “No one derived any joy or kicks from reading or reporting on the bloody mayhem of those days,” he wrote in an email on 2 December 2017. “It was a fascinating human story, both in terms of the people and the governments. Taylor’s criminalized regime was both a human tragedy on a regional level and an amazing look at mass pillaging by a government. The RUF as a ‘revolutionary’ movement was unique and radically different in brutality and use of power than any Latin American movement.”
Post-Conflict/Post 9/11 Period The period of post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia and Sierra Leone roughly coincided with the period following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC. The post-9/11 period witnessed something significant with respect to Western media interest and presence in Africa: the three key Western
news organizations maintaining a bureau in West Africa (the BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post) abandoned or reduced their presence; the Washington Post closed its bureau. All diverted their resources to the Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Journalists and editors who had relished the portrayal of petty rebel armies or bandits in West Africa as some sort of ghoulish entertainment now faced the real thing: suicide murderers who could strike at their cities and kill hundreds of their own fellow citizens. The result was that it became possible for an African hero to emerge once again post-Nelson Mandela: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an articulate Harvard-trained economist who became, as president of Liberia, Africa’s first elected female head of state. Certainly, the adulation that the American and European media has bestowed on Johnson Sirleaf throughout her presidency has been out of all proportion to her actual achievements as president. It might be overcompensation for the awful reporting on Liberia during the war years, but for the Western media Sirleaf can do no wrong. (One is not sure: Sierra Leone, which received similarly awful coverage, has not enjoyed similar positive reporting, though its first postwar president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, could boast of achievements that probably surpassed Sirleaf ’s). She has appeared on the coveted cover of Time magazine as one of the world’s most powerful and admired women (though over 60 percent of Liberians cannot read and write, and fewer than 20 percent are formally employed); and Newsweek described her as “The Rebuilder” in a laudatory article in August 2010, less than five years after becoming president. A year later, in October 2011, the Norwegian Nobel Committee named Sirleaf, along with two other women, as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for “securing peace in Liberia, promoting economic and social development, and strengthening the position of women.”9 No more mention of child soldiers or war atrocities.
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The reaction of Liberians to this positive attention has been mixed. For Jedi Mowbray Armah, a former Deputy Minister of Information for Public Affairs, this was wholly welcome and refreshing: “I think that the international media reporting of Liberia has been balanced. They have been very helpful, particularly during the Ebola epidemic. There was no sensationalism; they were sympathetic, and their coverage was positive. They have been very helpful to the Sirleaf administration. I don’t know whether it has been the result of lobbying or anything, but it has been very good for Liberia. It could be that they have been so kind to us just because of Sirleaf, but it has really good for Liberia,” he told me in an interview. For Aaron Weah, a civil society activist and academic, this has all been a variation on a depressing theme: “the notion that events in Africa need to be measured on a scale that is designed to accommodate minimalist standards.” In an interview for this paper, he said, “Take the recent elections here for example. For the Western media, in African elections so long as there is no violence, even if there are credible complaints of fraud and irregularities, it is assumed that such elections are acceptable, and should be declared free and fair. The notion here is, democracies are too complicated for Africans. This doesn’t make for good reporting. We must not accept low standards. It is all so patronising”. In all of this, one important development seemed to have been largely ignored or missed. Farah argued that since the reduction of Western media presence in Africa post 9/11, “there were very few people on the ground to observe what was going on and the significant geopolitical shift under way.” He wrote, “Few journalists, small embassies, little intelligence gathering and a lack of focus all contributed to the overall blindness to the emergence of China and many other changes in West Africa. China emerging as a true geopolitical super power and
strategic challenge to the US has raised interest but not that much.” The truly great journalists, however, have continued to persevere. On Chinese penetration of Africa— probably the most important foreign incursion into the continent since the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 led to the carving up of Africa among European powers—Howard French’s reporting has been groundbreaking. And he has done so using his own resources, not those of The New York Times. In China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a new Empire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014), French revealed what is barely glimpsed in reporting by major news organizations about the massive Chinese investments in Africa during the past 15 years: growing and highly dynamic colonies of Chinese emigrants in Africa that are profoundly shaping the look of the continent, for better or worse. The Western media, in other words, possess a great capacity to be forward-looking and do a lot of good in the process.
Notes 1. Liberia TRC Report Vol. Three: Appendix VI: “Media and Outreach in the TRC Process”, www. legal-tools.org/doc/a14fc8/pdf/ p. 30-38. 2. Ibid., 40. 3. Ibid, 33. 4. Robin White protested to the TRC: “the truth—you know people said [the BBC] caused—you caused the war. Well we did not. Charles Taylor started the war.” 5. Lansana Gberie, A Dirty War in West Africa: the RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone (London: Hurst 2005) 6. Author’s interview with Penfold.
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7. Ritchard T. M’Bayo, “Liberia, Rwanda & Sierra Leone: The public face of public violence,” in Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, Vol.26, 21, 21–32 (2005) 8. Ibrahim Seaga Shaw, “The West’s reporting of conflict in Africa,” in Africa Quarterly, AugustOctober issue I.S. 2006, 36-49 9. www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/ laureates/2011/press.html
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Africa: The Gaps, Biases and Nuanaces of Reportage Eromo Egbejule
The core of media reporting is storytelling—an investigation into the theory of events—and the allure of stories is in how they are told. The how determines where a story will go; if it will be believed, shrugged off or disdained; how the audience will relate to it; and what follows after the narrative is spent—it is in this theatre that the media must perform. A gap exists in how Western media and international news channels cover events across regions and sub-regions. The language used in writing about the West is decidedly different from that employed when writing about Africa, or other non-Western counterparts, and is essentially a fetish for blending myth with distortion. Africa gets almost as much coverage from outside the continent as from within, but throughout history this outside coverage has tended to frame and represent it in an unflattering light.
History A genealogy of dystopian constructions of the continent’s identity leads all the way back to 5th century BC, when Herodotus wrote The Histories, in which he portrayed Africa as a place inhabited by savages and non-human creatures. A few centuries later Darwin would improve upon Herodotus’s statements in his book, where he claimed that Africans were still evolving and therefore did not fall within the ‘favoured races’ category with the same status enjoyed by Europeans. The next set of explorers, voyagers, adventurers, missionaries, and writers to come to Africa were paying attention to these assertions and codes, then buttressing it in their own ways. The narrative of the “dark continent”, a backwater planet in the belly of a jungle, was being sculpted. Henry M. Stanley, Welsh journalist and explorer, published Through the Dark Continent, an account of his travels along the Zambezi River in 1878. He wrote: I felt my heart suffused with purest gratitude to
Him whose hand had protected us, and who had enabled us to pierce the Dark Continent from east to west, and to trace its mightiest river to the ocean bourne. (p 106)
By the time Stanley wrote his next book, Darkest Africa, in 1890, the enthusiasm for salacious metaphors and denigrating the identity of the continent had not paused for breath: Dancing in Africa mainly consist of male buffoonery, extravagant gestures, leaping and contortions of the body, while many drums keep time. There is always an abundance of noise and loud laughter, and it serves the purpose of furnishing amusement to the barbarians, as the dervish-like whirling and pirouetting give to civilised people. (p 436)
When Joseph Conrad arrived on the scene in 1899, the plot had already been scripted. In his famous novel, The Heart of Darkness, the African characters are depicted as incoherent, inexplicably violent, uncivilized and dumb labourers. Like his predecessors, he portrayed the image of Africa as the antithesis of Europe. Negative representations were essential to the sustenance of imperialist movements. With each retelling and affirmation, colored stereotypes and myths became conflated with truth and standardized as fact; reductive narrative tropes shadowed the true picture; and ubiquitous images of war, pestilence, starving children, and animals in the wild became the go-to poster for Africa, laying the foundations for post-colonial media’s discursive coverage of the continent. The staying power of these tropes is illustrated in the infamous Economist front cover headline of 13 May 2000, describing Africa as a “Hopeless Continent.” The article went on to state: “The new millennium has brought more disaster than hope to Africa. Worse, the few candles of hope are flickering weakly.” Foreign press stereotypically portrays Africa as a
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lump block of helplessness and instability. The image of the West as the good parent who selflessly shoulders the burden of responsibility to lull the continent into a semblance of calm is then consolidated. Certain terms, discourse and modes of representation have been normalized when reporting African stories, and while it may not be deliberate, it is not necessarily seen as a problem. Fatu Ogwuche, an election observer with the African Union and the Election Network who doesn’t shy away from criticizing election coverage by foreign media, says that Africa is the favorite hunting ground for journalists. “Media is important in amplifying reality and issues around being African and dealing with human rights abuses, collective experiences of bleak governance... but it still has a way to go in terms of facts — unbiased and objective coverage of crises on the continent. A lot of these foreign journalists consider Africa their Pulitzer, they need to sell our continent and experiences short— the more it inspires horror or revulsion, the greater their chances are.” It is a view with which Ruth Olurounbi of the Nigerian Tribune agrees: I do think global media deliberately sensationalizes news coming from Africa—in fact every global agency that communicates does— it fits their narrative of a poor, malnourished, uncivilized Africa—and it makes them a lot of money. Bad news sells. And in Africa and other developing countries, it is very easy to find bad news—in spite of progress and development in such countries.
While the origin of the media gap is traceable to colonial ideologies, it does not depict the complete picture, as other extraneous factors contribute to the status quo. Since the 2008 global recession, there have been fewer resources available to fund well-researched news stories. There has also been a significant increase in the cost of retaining
an army of foreign correspondents, leading to a heavy reliance on parachute journalism over local on-the-ground reporting. Another spurious practice gaining traction is the entrenchment of what can be called the Dakar-Nairobi nexus. Foreign correspondents move to Nairobi or Dakar or Johannesburg or any hotspot they deem comfortable and then cover the continent or their sub-region from there without actual travel to other countries. Many rely on fixers in the local communities to do the heavy lifting, then come in at their convenience to soak up the work done, and condense it into a report. Ultimately, running correspondence in a foreign country is often stripped of the cultural, historical and sociopolitical contexts; whatever is left is crumbs fit to be digested by foreigners only.
The Frame Bias Like every other continent, Africa experiences its fair share of conflict and socio-political drama, enmeshed in a topical flavour of ideologies and histories that shape it under the influence of strong actors and dictatorial characters. However, in terms of quantitative international media coverage, Africa’s news stories are covered least, and those that are covered expose a qualitative slight when compared to other regions—what Afua Hirsch in the Guardian terms “the west’s lazy reporting of Africa”. Over time, journalists and media channels have evolved certain frames or guidelines along which media content is fashioned—the Africa Template, if you will. Framing works as a plot device, setting the tone and agenda for the perception of stories by the audience. The mandate of framing Africa by the Western Media is actualized through some of the following techniques: • Decontextualization: this kind of reporting divests facts of their historical, social, cultural,
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or economic contexts, thereby overlooking the reasons for, say, a conflict. • Selection/exclusion of news items deemed ‘soft’ or ‘cheerful’ enough to fit the prevailing agenda, such as the dearth of solutions-based journalism and the focus on crisis-driven journalism. • Sensationalism: The intentional presentation of subject matter in an exaggerated manner to grab attention. For example, an article published by CNN in March 2013 entitled “Violence in Kenya” was supported with a picture of what looked like a burning Kenyan flag, and described election violence as “widespread” even though it had only occurred in Nairobi. • Ascribing to the whole of Africa what is only represented by a part of it. For example, in April 2014 an NBC headline read, “US Sends Team to Fight African Ebola Outbreak”, when the article only referred to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. • The use of coded words like ethnic, jungle, brutal, black on black, senseless violence, impoverished. • The introduction of opposing binaries to reflect African vs Western realities such as savage/ civilized, primitive/modern. • Dehumanization or elimination of the actors in favor of abstract processes or stereotypes. For example, in covering terror attacks or insurgencies in Europe or America, Western media offers for consumption the specifics of the people, local culture, environment, region, lifestyle, and even the personal history and future aspirations of the victims. Meanwhile in covering non-Western attacks, the sense of personal tragedy is mostly absent and the detachment is almost palpable, as is illustrated in this excerpt from a New York Times article on the bombing in Kabul: “In different corners of
the city, workers and relatives dug graves for the ones who, with life having become a game of chance, just were not lucky.” The measure of these frames resides in their durability and steady repetition over time. It is the impact of these constructions on the minds of international audiences that the misrepresented are forced to deal with.
Content Analysis of Problematic Coverage In its coverage of insurgencies, religion, corruption, violent conflicts, LGBTQ issues, resource control and election crises on the continent, Western media recycles old patterns of portraying and predicting the worst possible scenarios or outcomes. This is in spite of the gradual shift of African countries away from their conflict-ridden pasts. Even the triumph of democracy is not celebrated, says Ayodeji Rotinwa, a Lagos-based independent journalist who also writes for foreign media outlets. “I think global news titles do use sensationalist headlines when they report African elections because it fits into the narrative they’ve spun for decades about what Africa is supposed to be. It’s like, hey look, they have infrastructure and other developments, but they still cannot manage transiting between governments like us.” She continues, “In the months leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (the first time an African country was hosting), not a day went by that I did not see a doom-is-nigh CNN report in the major belt (not sports) about South Africa’s preparedness. Infrastructural challenges are a reality of ANY country hosting such a global event no matter how wealthy but you’d never hear of Beijing or South Korea suffering worker strikes or missed deadlines, the way we did about SA.” There is an archive of examples to buttress these points and in Western news reports a lot of negatives were brought to the fore, including HIV
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and AIDS, the state of the roads, workers strikes, and minor theft. For example, an article published in the Guardian on 4 July 2007 said: Murder was not the only category of major crime to have risen. In the two areas which particularly alarm middle-class South Africans – car hijackings and residential robberies – the figures were up by 6% and 25.4% respectively. The statistics, which in the past the government has tried to cover up, are likely to once again raise questions about South Africa’s fitness to stage the 2010 World Cup.
Later in the year, on 26 November, the Daily Mail wrote: “Hundreds of children on the streets, brutal gangs terrorising tourists and a police force unable to cope... it’s a very warm welcome to South Africa.” In reporting on elections, corruption, and insurgencies, the brightest lights are beamed on images of backwards, broken, brutal, and disorganized sub-regions that cannot do anything right. Mercy Abang, journalist, stringer and founder of Newswire Nigeria, points out the discrepancies. “The conversation has been on corrupt leaders looting citizens, but here’s the media narrative that reeks of bias, a narrative that ignores the fact that Western Nations are always eager and willing to accept looted funds and resources. Within the terms of defining corruption, the one who gives and the one who takes is equally as guilty. Why are Western nations not stopping all forms of migration of resources in the same way they’ve invested resources in stopping Africans from migrating?” Every election is unique and complex and brings with it uncertainty about the future in terms of work and freedom; yet most of these nuances are not reflected in international coverage of African
elections. In America, the 2016 election was broadcast in great detail. Viewers were given insight into in why so many citizens felt the need to “Make America Great Again,” and were also presented with possible aftermath scenarios. Africa’s elections, however, are never about what the past and next phase of leadership entails. They are always about violence and suffering. For example: • “Once the Jewel of Post-Colonial Africa, Kenya Boasted a Thriving Economy and was Among the World’s Leading Luxury Holiday Destinations. Now it’s in Meltdown with Democracy in Ruins and More than 1,000 Dead in Barbaric Clashes. And, as This Terrifying Dispatch Reveals, There’s No Sign of an End to the Tribal Bloodshed”—the Daily Mail, 4 February 2008. • “Nigerian city counts its dead after days of Christian-Muslim riots: Hundreds killed and over 10,000 people displaced: Suspected voterigging in state polls sparks violence”—the Guardian, 1 December 2008. • “Bring Me My Machine Gun ... That’s the Chilling Battle Cry of the ‘100 Per Cent Zulu Boy’ who will Be Elected South Africa’s President This Week. So, will the Man who has Been Charged with Rape, Embroiled in a 610 Billion Corruption Scandal and is An Unashamed Polygamist Destroy Nelson Mandela’s Dream?—the Daily Mail, 22 April 2009. • “Nigeria Postpones Elections, Saying Security Is a Concern”—the New York Times, 8 February 2015. • “Violence Flares and Tensions Rise After Kenya Presidential Vote”—the New York Times, 28 October 2017. • “Liberia’s election delay divides already tense nation”—the Daily Mail, 5 November 2017.
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• “British Embassy in Zimbabwe warns UK citizens to stay indoors following ‘unusual military activity’ – while tanks line the streets of the African nation’s capital Harare after a ‘bloodless’ coup”—the Daily Mail, 17 November 2017.
Impact It is important to remember that international media coverage of Africa does not exist in a bubble; it has far-reaching implications that transcend the continent’s borders. Not only does it continue to promote tired stereotypes, it encourages them to be accepted as truths in the minds of the international public. We cannot overlook the imagined cultural hierarchy it creates, nor the political and economic hegemony it perpetuates. Investments and pedals for development are being diverted from Africa because the minds of business owners, investors, and tourists have been programmed to see the region as unstable and unsuitable. As Abang puts it: Viewers and news consumers in Europe, America and most Western nations have been forced to expect the horrific stories of a dark and messy continent always needing aid, always in conflict, always with famines and chaotic populations. All of the sad stories from the continent fit into that narrative, which is why when Mpesa (the world’s most powerful mobile money technology) was created, no one sent journalists to beam a searchlight .. but as I type, international journalists are headed to South Africa for the coverage of Mugabe’s ouster (expecting conflict or war to breakout). The starving children, displaced kids, dead bodies and failed system falls under that narrative. Africa is entertaining the world.
Admittedly, some journalism is conscionable, and intent on undoing or twisting the usual narrative of
Western media reporting of Africa. A good example is a Washington Post report published on 16 August 2017, entitled, “What if Western Media Covered Charlottesville the Same Way it Covers Other Nations?” However, articles such as these aren’t entirely flawless as Tobias Denskus, head of the Department of Communication for Development at Malmo University points out. I wouldn’t call it a genre, but there is a bunch of articles out there that twist the ‘usual narrative’ of Western media reporting on African affairs But I’m not entirely convinced. A lot of new journalism on Africa meets traditional reporting styles. A lot of reporting on Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa or now Zimbabwe treats their political environment like a ‘normal’ environment to the point where you wish they were more critical about Kenyan elections or an ‘African leader’ like Kagame… I think there is a general problem about how parachuting foreign correspondents work.
Social media plays a vital role in the contemporary media market. Over time, it has proven its ability to restructure public opinion, foster new conversations, and rein in the authorities, as witnessed in Kenya’s #SomeoneTellCNN campaign against the network’s negative coverage of the country; South Sudan’s media boycott against uncritical reporting by the “big guys”; and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Still, social media also has the capacity to propagate biased representations through “clickbait reporting”, as evidenced by Invisible Children’s irresponsible activism that birthed the viral video nobody asked for—Kony 2012. Renowned writer Chinua Achebe once said that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. African media must take up the challenge to set its own
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agenda and correct the erroneous notions that continue to be generously splattered across Western media. A need exists to curate the lived experiences of the thousands of literate, experienced African writers, scholars, analysts, journalists, and informants, if the continent is to dismantle the racial hierarchy of knowledge. It is imperative for Africa to begin telling its stories for itself; negotiating its identity on its own terms; transforming and substituting antiquated journalistic protocols; and restructuring the gap in representation to ensure its future does not fit into the container of its past.
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Indigenous Media in East Africa Parselelo Kantai
The…practice since independence of the elite straddling multiple economic sectors—politics, industry and agriculture—has been reinvented in the media industry where the mainstream investors straddle the print/electronic divide, sometimes with multiple investments in each subsector. This has been made possible because of the weak legislative and institutional frameworks governing the sector which are also inefficiently applied. —Othieno Nyanjom, ‘Factually True, Legally Untrue: Political Media Ownership in Kenya’, Internews Service, 2012 In my time in the newsroom, I’ve seen the media change from being a watchdog to being a lapdog. It no longer serves the public interest. It serves corporate interests. —Former news editor, Nairobi The commercial pressure facing mainstream media in East Africa today is not merely a function of competition. It is a seismic shift in the business of journalism. —Senior media manager, Kampala
The struggle for the soul of media Contrary to popular opinion, trafficked mostly across the anarchic landscape of social media, reports of the death of the news business in East Africa have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, 20 years after authoritarian regimes cracked open the door to a misshapen liberalization, the media industry in East Africa is flourishing. Across the region, there are more newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations than ever before. While governing laws remain stringent, regulators struggle to keep pace with technological changes, and have been unable to loosen the stranglehold private media owners have on the industry. And while audience numbers may be falling away for traditional media, advertising revenues continue to grow steadily.1
In the era of fake news, the media, alongside the church and civil society, remains the most trusted public institution.2 The liberalization of the media was arguably the single most important factor in the struggle to open up the democratic space and weakening autocratic rule on the continent. The national broadcaster, that symbol first of independence and later of party authoritarianism and state propaganda, found itself thrust into a maelstrom of competing media voices. It may be noted in passing that taking over the studios of the national broadcaster, that timehonoured tradition of African military putschists, no longer possessed either the symbolic or strategic importance, it once had in the authoritarian era. As hundreds of radio stations and scores of TV channels opened across the landscape, a fundamental re-calibration of state-citizen relations has occurred. The citizen has become the consumer; and consumer choice has vitiated the state’s authority over the citizen. States’ reactions to these shifts have been almost uniform across East Africa. The explosion of media paradoxically led to a hardening of regulations as state authorities deployed whatever means at their disposal to control and order the new media landscape. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where strong democratic currents run, governments have legislated harsh new laws—often dressed up in the softening Orwellian language of ‘reform’ and ‘standardisation’—to limit the space for independent media. Errant journalists are silenced by the threat of stiff fines and the re-introduction of criminal libel, a colonial-era law for which journalists are held personally liable. In Uganda, where the Museveni government liberalized the media landscape earliest in 1992, and where the threat of state-sponsored violence against journalists significantly retreated after the National Resistance Movement took power, at least one journalist has been prosecuted for criminal libel and/or
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defamation every year. And like in Tanzania, the Museveni government continues to use national security provisions to put down arbitrarily media houses regarded as a threat to the regime.3 More recently, under the cover of counter-terrorism laws, draconian regulations have been introduced to police journalism. While media activists have fought back, often successfully, in the courts, the overt intentions of the state have subtly introduced deepening cultures of self-censorship in the newsroom. And these are merely the places where a rhetorical display of democratic intent is regarded as politically expedient. In more authoritarian environments such as Burundi and South Sudan, the state has dispensed with legal niceties. Journalists have been murdered, radio stations and newspapers have been arbitrarily shut down. In Burundi, the government has systematically shut down all but one of the independent media houses that existed prior to the presidential term-limit controversy of 2015. The exception to the rule is Rwanda, which has maintained a tight control over independent media. New media regulations were publicly hailed by both local and foreign observers as a genuine effort to reform and streamline the media sector, still regarded by President Paul Kagame’s RPF government with justifiable suspicion for its role in the genocide.4 Criticism, however faint, is harshly dealt with through a variety of pretexts, ‘sectarianism’ and ‘genocide denial’ being the most favoured. As the journalist Anjan Sundaram revealed in his book Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, the personal threats against journalists in Rwanda are the darkest expression of President Kagame’s dictatorship. Because of the near-total control the Kagame government has on the media, journalists critical to the regime are not just silenced but, through bans, extremely effective personal surveillance, unreported night disappearances of journalists, a state propaganda
machine organized through ostensibly private and independent media, which extends to identifying and co-opting pro-Rwanda journalists in the region, all under the cover of Western-supported post-genocide reconstruction, the RPF government has managed to successfully project the notion of public unanimity and consensuality—a kind of eternal sunshine of the spotless regime. Nowhere else in the region is the state’s control of the media so effectively organized. Across the region, these coercive efforts are derived from a history of authoritarianism, both colonial and post-colonial. The authoritarian instinct remains locked deep in the marrow of the managers of East Africa’s states. The Ugandan poet and cultural critic Okot p’Bitek wrote in 1968: The most striking and frightening characteristic of all African governments is this: that without an exception, all of them are dictatorships, and practice such ruthless discriminations as to make the South African apartheid look tame... I leave it to political scientists to explore and analyse this strange situation whereby Independence means the re-placement of foreign rule by native dictatorship.5
Media liberalization has undoubtedly played a major role in redrafting the social contract, limiting the authoritarian instinct and exploring the African experience in all its textures. In Kenya most notably, the role of an activist media was integral to the ‘second liberation’—the movement to re-introduce multiparty democracy. In Uganda, a vanguard of young, idealistic journalists established the Weekly Monitor, which for a season served almost as the ideological wing of Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement. The explosion of broadcast media, especially vernacular radio, in 1990s Uganda and a decade later in Kenya, gave force to Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s post-colonial manifesto, Decolonising the Mind. The democratization project in East Africa was prosecuted not in English, but in a Babel of
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local languages that did much to de-centre notions of power and allow for a bottom-up national conversation. Writing in the New African, Eric Chinje of the African Media Initiative, observed: Technology may be the principal driver of the state of the [media] industry today. In a little over two decades, it redefined the ecosystem and contributed to the democratisation of the media, taking it from the near-exclusive preserve of government and a handful of the privileged in society to anyone with real interest and a pocketful of dollars […]There is an undeclared war for the soul of media today. While it is possible to find minimum consensus on the more traditional roles of media—to inform, educate and entertain—it is almost impossible to clearly identify a common agenda for what passes for media in Africa.6
Two decades after media liberalization, that initial sense of optimism has been severely tempered. While governments in East Africa make continual efforts to limit media freedoms, it is the spectre of a media captured by state cronyism that now poses an existential threat to the media industry.
The newsroom is dead, long live the media! At the end of July 2013, the journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote something of an apologia for the Kenyan media.7 The essay, published in both the Saturday Nation and The East African, two titles published by the Nation Media Group, arguably the most influential media house in the region, was provoked by widespread criticism of the media’s handling of the bitterly disputed March 2013 presidential election. Obbo chose to present his defence in historical terms: The Kenya media might be having a crisis, but it is not the one most critics think it is. To understand what is happening today, one needs
to step back many years. To begin with, there is something very unusual about Kenya media that one needs to go to as far as South Africa in Africa to find—Kenya is the only country in the region with INDEPENDENT and PRIVATE newspapers that are older than 50 years, and also happen to be market leaders.8
For close observers of Kenya’s mainstream media, this signalling of the crisis by a venerable insider was only surprising for its belated timing. That mainstream media had been co-opted by the political establishment—a reality Obbo readily acknowledges in his essay—was hardly news. In the decade since Daniel arap Moi’s exit from the stage, mainstream media had cashed in its activist chips, earned through the blood, sweat and tears of journalists who endured the worst of Moi-era repression, for a slice of Africa Rising GDP. By the time Obbo was writing his piece, the culture of crony relations that had long been installed in the boardroom had crept downstairs and captured the newsroom. To that extent, Obbo’s was a piece of sophistry performed in the service of a regional media giant comfortable, and profitable enough to expose its feet of clay. The immediate context of Obbo’s piece is instructive: a luncheon thrown by State House Nairobi, for the media elite. A few weeks after Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto took power following the discredited presidential elections, selected journalists were invited to State House for lunch. The occasion, unprecedented in the turbulent history of state-media relations in Kenya, was a bold public relations gimmick. Staged by the new incumbents as a thinly-veiled effort to curry favour with a sceptical media, its true intent was to shift media opinion against the International Criminal Court where both men’s cases were set to open a few months down the line for their alleged roles in the 2007 post-election mayhem.
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The luncheon was televised live across all major Kenyan channels. Those expecting a robust encounter between Nairobi’s media elite and president self-conscious of his international criminal indictment, were to be roundly disappointed. As the waiters topped up the wine glasses and brought through the dessert to the folk sitting in the giant marquee on the State House lawn, a scene of shameless brown-nosing was playing itself out. Before the somewhat bemused new president, one journalist after another, clearly overwhelmed by the occasion, rose to heartily congratulate Mr Kenyatta on his victory, thank him for the invitation and lob leading questions about his grand vision for the republic. By the end of the event, several journalists were openly canvassing for jobs in the Jubilee administration.
enormous pressures. The gate-keepers were stronger. Today, they’ve joined the gravy train,” says a former senior editor who has worked at both the Daily Nation and the Standard. “People used to talk about ‘eating’ in hushed tones. Today, everybody wants to be part of the party. The [Nation Media Group] and the [Standard Group] are self-immolating. As brands, every day they undermine their veracity and sustainability. It’s a case of journalism castrating itself.”
Some background is important. Wary of a repeat of the 2007 post-election crisis, which had pushed Kenya to the brink of civil war, and for which the media (especially, but not exclusively, ethnic radio; the more ambivalent role of English and Kiswahili media was parsed over) were heavily indicted, the media soft-pedalled. Rather than broadcast their own vote tallies, as they had done in 2007 before being leaned on by influential securocrats to suspend live election broadcasts, the media in 2013 chose to follow the election commission’s lead. When the IEBC’s expensive electronic vote-transmission platform—the introduction of technology in the voting process was meant to cure Kenya’s chronic inability to count, especially when numbers had political implications—mysteriously broke down at the onset of vote tallying in what appeared to be a case of calculated self-sabotage at the election commission, the media chose to give the Commission the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that new election laws had made manual counting illegal.
Despite glaring failures by the election commission during the 2013 general elections, dominant media’s reporting, euphemistically known as ‘peace journalism’ in media circles, was bravely defended as a collective act of patriotism. As a senior editor at NTV, the broadcasting arm of the Nation Media Group, put it: “We were faced with a choice: were we patriots first or journalists first? For most of us, the answer was clear. As Kenyans we were not going to let our country burn again.”
“During the 2007 elections, the media still possessed a sense of independence, despite
The findings of internal investigations into how sophisticated vote-tallying equipment purchased by the different media houses broke down, have never been revealed. In 2007, there were loud whispers that individual journalists were in the pay of one political party or the other; in 2013, the question was: who was not?
It speaks volumes that to this day, not a single media outlet has investigated the central discrepancy of that election: why there were 1.5 million more votes cast for the presidency than for any of the other five elective positions on offer. Related questions, such as why the IEBC has never presented a credible final report on the 2013 general elections, have similarly gone not so much unanswered, as un-asked. Similarly, it is instructive that when senior members of the IEBC were implicated in a corruption court case in London, involving a UK supplier of ballot materials, Kenyan media only began reporting on the matter after the case had been determined and the father-son
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directorship of Smith and Ouzman, the offending company, had been convicted and jailed. There were only occasional instances where the dots were joined between corruption at the IEBC and the rigging of the 2013 elections. Obbo’s candid acknowledgement that Kenya’s oldest private media houses had run out of gas after a good run of it, stopped just short of an overwhelming admission: that journalism had died in the arms of corporate media.
SUBHEAD>> Kenya’s two oldest media houses, the Standard Group and the Nation Media Group, have long straddled a tricky line between commerce and the public interest. And while their owners assiduously cultivated cosy relationships with State House, protecting the newsroom from commercial and, to the extent possible, political interference was the unspoken principle on which their media reputations rested. Ironically, the independence of the newsroom was strongest at the height of the Moi dictatorship. A crop of stubborn, brilliant and fearless news editors stood sentry in the newsroom, fending off pressure from aggrieved ruling party politicos and civil servants while protecting their journalists against board directors and the commercial sales people. “Up until 20 years ago when I joined the Nation, the sales and marketing departments used to be very mercantilist. Small teams, one-man shows, very aggressive. The Daily Nation was a writer’s paper. For the longest time, this tradition insulated the newsroom from commercial pressures. There was a very strong Chinese wall between us and them,” recalls a former business editor of the Daily Nation. In the early 1990s, as popular demands for the return of multiparty politics gained traction, the Nation actively collaborated with other civil society actors—the Church, the opposition, human rights and anti-corruption NGOs and activist Western donors—to force the Moi regime to open up the democratic space. The generation of journalists who had come of age in the 1980s were at the forefront
of articulating the demands for pluralism. Regarded by the regime as anti-government activists, these journalists—prominent at both the Daily Nation and the Standard, the only two private-owned dailies in the country—became synonymous with the popular notion that the press was anti-establishment. In control of what was in effect a media duopoly, with daily sales soaring, the advertisers kept coming. The editors could thus keep their anxious directors at bay, convincing the Board that dissident journalism bred commercial success. It was a winning formula. The changes began in the early 2000s, with the introduction of editorial board committees. Composed of board directors and editors, these committees gave the Board a direct role in daily editorial decisions and encouraged a more corporate-friendly feel to the newspaper. Investigations, especially those that were perceived as hostile to big advertisers, were discouraged. “This was the beginning of ‘relationship journalism’,” recalls the former business editor. “It is not that stories were being killed outright, but you were discouraged from pursuing certain stories if it was felt that it would piss off existing advertisers.”
SUBHEAD>>>> On New Year’s Day, 2016, Dennis Galava, editor of the Saturday Nation, wrote an editorial excoriating Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration. Drafted as an open letter to the President, the editorial entitled ‘Mr President, get your act together this year’, was perhaps the most direct criticism of Kenyatta’s rule since he took power. Within weeks, Galava had been fired. Shortly after, Godfrey Mwampembwa, the cartoonist popularly known as Gado, a satirist who took no prisoners, was also dismissed, after 24 years of service to the NMG. News of the dismissals made international headlines, and fuelled talk that State House had coerced the NMG into firing the two as a signal of rising impatience with media dissent. The reality was more complicated. As media had become more corporatized, the culture of
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ethnically-flavoured crony capitalism under the Jubilee government had captured the media. With the Jubilee government threatening to withdraw advertising from private media that did not toe the line, and pushing new legislation to restrict media freedom, the private sector had followed suit. ‘Peace journalism’ was merely the younger sibling of ‘relationship journalism’, a decade-long flirtation between editors and the corporate sector in which media scrutiny of malfeasance in the private sector was suppressed for fear of offending advertisers. The dismissals of Galava and Gado were not so much a symptom of newsrooms bowing to state pressure as they were the clearest indication of the disappearance of the last shred of independence. A major symptom of the media’s internal crisis is the rise of ethnicity in the newsroom. As its independence was taken hostage by the crony establishment, professionalism was discarded for ethnic considerations. Recruitment and promotions became predicated on ‘which tribe you were’; news editors allocated stories based on ethnicity; the newsroom became sharply divided along ethnic lines, especially during election season. Journalists themselves fell for the seductions of ethnic political barons and frequently moonlighted for them as media advisers. More significantly, because media owners and directors themselves were deeply involved in shaping the politics of ethno-corporate cronyism, the media’s editorial line became the most effective agent of dog-whistle ethnic politics.9 Insulated by the mutual back-scratching of the ethnic patronage system, media owners were able to shrug off attempts at official regulation. In 2008, in the wake of the post-election violence and with one commission of inquiry after another implicating the media in the crisis, media owners were still able to resist the recommendations of the Media Council of Kenya, a state body, to
limit cross-ownership of media. Consequently, the oligarchy that had emerged in the immediate period after media liberalization, reinforced itself. Having fought off attempts at regulation by establishing a self-regulatory regime, their control over all media platforms—print, broadcast and digital—was complete. Mainstream media became an echochamber of the ethno-corporate crony elite. After the 2013 election, with a Kikuyu-Kalenjin ethnic duopoly mirroring the ethnic composition of the most dominant media owners, the marriage between the state and the media (with the corporate crony mafia as flower girl) was all but complete. There would be repercussions: “In the period immediately after the 2013 elections—that is, after ‘the accept-and-move-on’ campaign—we lost between 10-20 percent of circulation. I am saying that we instantly lost between 20,000 and 50,000 in daily sales,” says an editor at the NMG. Newspaper circulation and TV/radio audience figures from the Kenya Audience Research Foundation reveal a similar drop across all media.10 In other words, there was a material cost to pay for the loss of public trust in journalism. It is worth noting that, as the KARF report shows, there was a sharp spike in news-oriented social media activity during the same period.11 While citizen journalists on social media continue to piggy-back on traditional media for hard news, the critical angles that online journalists and activists take are often designed to attack both the political establishment and the traditional media, with the latter increasingly regarded as supporters of the status quo. Across the region, and indeed the continent, bloggers such as Lina Ben Mhenni in Tunisia, Cyprian Nyakundi in Kenya and the mysterious Tom Okwalinga in Uganda have become the new faces of critical dissent on the continent, exposing corruption, and attracting not only a generation
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that came of age online but a public increasingly disenchanted with mainstream media.12 “The three biggest threats to the newsroom are the media owners themselves, the collapse of standards and ethics and tribalism,” argues a former senior editor who has worked at both the NMG and the Standard Group: The decline of print media in Kenya is due to the erosion of ethics and standards not the uptake of digital media. As for broadcast journalism, it long ago became an auction house for politicians and corporates. TV has always been the bedrock of dirty journalism.
Another veteran news editor remarks: The culture in the newsroom changed because of competition—the race for profits and ratings. Cost-cutting in the early 2000s rid newsrooms of their eccentrics and robbed newspapers of their institutional memory. Media owners were willing to sacrifice their media assets to advance more lucrative business pursuits.
Concluding his essay, Obbo made the following observations: Kenya needs new newspapers that have greater freedom to go against the grain and break out of such strait jackets. Therefore the crisis today is not that the main media are too comfortable and restrained. It is that Kenya has failed to produce a newspaper that disrupts or reshapes the political and social landscape like The Monitor that arose in Uganda in 1992, or even like the now-defunct Weekly Review in 1975, Kenya’s first news magazine that broke the mould and challenged the post-independence settlement… The fact that no new newspaper has been born that has successfully explored alternative universes in similar ways, is a constraint imposed as much by Kenyan society and its inflexible block political allegiances, as much as it is a failure of the media.
Notes 1. See PwC’s ‘Entertainment and Media Outlook: 20162020’. In Kenya, for instance, media ad-spend is expected to rise at an average of 10 percent per annum until 2020. 2. See: www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000196323/ survey-media-the-most-trusted-institution. The report quotes a 2016 survey conducted by Twaweza Africa. 3. For a comprehensive account of the state of media freedom in Uganda, see this report by the Kampala-based African Centre for Media Excellence: http://acme-ug.org/ wp-content/uploads/Research-Report-on-State-of-MediaFreedom-in-Uganda.pdf 4. See here for a detailed analysis of the 2013 Media law: https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/6_5_2015_ib_-_ final_report_on_state_of_the_media_freedom_in_ rwanda_00.00.pdf 5. Transition 32, 1968 6. Eric Chinje, ’The State, the media and technology’, New African, November 2016, pp. 29 7. See here for an unabridged version of the essay on Obbo’s blog Rogue Chiefs: http://www.roguechiefs.com/2013/ at-the-crossroads-is-it-the-end-or-just-a-storm-in-ateacup-for-kenya-media/ . Versions of the same piece were published in both the Saturday Nation and The East African, the Nation Media Group’s upscale regional weekly. 8. Ibid. Obbo’s emphases. 9. All three leading media houses in Kenya, Royal Media Services, the Nation Media Group and the Standard Group, were dominated by owners/directors with unambiguous ethnic political leanings. RMS, owned by SK Macharia, an ethnic Kikuyu profited hugely from his support of President Mwai Kibaki’s election campaign in 2002, obtaining a raft of broadcast licenses in return that he used to set up vernacular radio stations across the country. The NMG’s long-serving CEO and later, board chairman, Wilfred Kiboro, also an ethnic Kikuyu, had in 2007 retired from the NMG to become President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity’s chief strategist. Owned by the Moi and Kulei families, both of which are Kalenjin, the SG has consistently hired ethnic Kalenjins
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at both the Board and managerial levels obviously on the assumption that tribal homeboys will best protect their interests. 10. Kenya Audience Research Foundation 2015 annual report presentation, June 29, 2016. KARF is composed of the Media Owners Association, the Association of Practitioners in Advertising and the Marketing Society of Kenya. 11. Ibid. pp. 10: “Since the last full Establishment Survey national daily reach of traditional media has shrunk. In contrast usage has almost doubled. This is despite increase in TV households, growth in population and rise in living standards. Access to media via mobile devices seems to be impacting on regular use of traditional media.” The question about whether the public was continuing to consume news via the more accessible mobile phone platforms is debatable. What is not is the fact that the hemorrhaging of readers and audiences was (and still does) generating massive pressures on media managers. 12. For an analysis, see ‘Digital Insurgency’, Sinem BilenOnabanjo, the New African, November 2016, pp. 26-29. It’s worth noting, for instance, that Cyprian Nyakundi and Robert Alai, the two leading Kenyan bloggers now attract almost as much social media traffic as mainstream media online sites.
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China’s Media Landscape and International Expansion Sophia Yan
China’s fast-growing media industry includes television, radio, print and online media, all of which is owned, controlled, and/or monitored by the government. The main state news organizations include: • Xinhua: China’s official press agency with bureaus around the world. Falls under the purview of the State Council. • People’s Daily: China’s largest newspaper group. Official newspaper of the Communist Party and also publishes the Global Times, an English language daily newspaper. • China Global Television (CGTN): China’s official state broadcaster. Operates dozens of channels within China and broadcasts in several foreign languages on CGTN. Falls under China’s state administration of press, publication, radio, film, and television The ruling Communist Party has been working to build its soft power and reshape China’s image on the global stage, spending an estimated US$10 billion a year according to David Shambaugh of George Washington University. In 2009, China claimed to have invested 45 billion yuan (US$7 billion) in a “grand overseas propaganda” (da wai xuan) project to expand its main state news organizations. Chinese state media is growing rapidly overseas and produces content in several different languages including Arabic, Spanish, French and English. Xinhua operates 32 domestic branches and 180 bureaus worldwide, and has plans to hit 200 by 2020. The organization has also taken over a massive LED billboard in New York’s Times Square, where it has its North America regional headquarters. In 2010, Xinhua launched CNC World, its 24-hour English language channel. CGTN has journalists in 70 countries as well as broadcast centers in Beijing, Nairobi, and
Washington DC, with plans to open one in London. China Daily Group, a state media newspaper group, pays for inserts in major Western newspapers, including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian. Online, these organizations operate websites, apps, and foreign social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter, which are blocked within China via the “Great Firewall,” the government’s online censorship and surveillance programme. Sixth Tone, an English-language website, launched in 2016 with a more digital savvy look and tone than other state media outlets. It is a sister publication of The Paper, a Chinese website. Both are state-backed and receive funding from a stateowned media group. Caixin Media Group also has government-backed funding, and publishes in Chinese and English. The organization, and its editor-in-chief, Hu Shuli, have a reputation for producing scoops and investigative work. In 2015, Alibaba, one of China’s tech titans, paid US$260 million to buy the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong-based English language daily paper. Alibaba Group is not state-owned, and is publicly listed in New York. The company said at the time that the Chinese government had no role in its decision to buy the paper. Experts say, however, that such deals generally receive some form of government blessing if they are allowed to proceed. Outside of news media the Ministry of Education funds a growing network of Confucius Institutes. There are nearly 500 institutes on six continents, many on university campuses, offering Mandarin language classes and hosting cultural events. The ministry also oversees Confucius Classrooms; more than 1,000 arrangements with foreign schools providing teachers, materials, and funding for language classes. “China is actively introducing its culture and values, and distributing favorable images through
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its media to achieve its goals of reducing fears of its military strength, developing closer relations with developing nations and expanding its international influence,” wrote Yu-Shan Wu, a researcher at the South Africa Institute of International Affairs, in a paper. She noted that Beijing is “actively building a positive image in developing regions where it is economically active, such as in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa”. For instance, Xinhua has signed news content deals in countries including Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cuba, Mongolia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Turkey. China’s global media investment and expansion comes at a time when major foreign news organizations are shuttering their overseas bureaus and laying off scores of journalists. Such investment allows China to champion a Communist Party approved image of the country to the rest of the world, and to spread its ideas and ideology, says Dani Madrid-Morales, a researcher at the City University of Hong Kong. Yet although China’s central government is funding the state media’s global expansion, the organizations themselves function fairly independently from each other. “They don’t really exchange information,” said Madrid-Morales. “We imagine China to create overseas this master plan; the reality is, they don’t.”
China’s censorship and “constructive journalism” Chinese state media is subject to government censorship and often covers more positive, noncontroversial angles. This has been key to China’s soft power strategy, especially as the Communist Party seeks to influence global perceptions. Media scholars interviewed say that such an approach allows China to champion itself, while also remaining non-critical of countries and regions it seeks to boost ties with. Journalists, especially Chinese managers making
editorial decisions, are generally aware of accepted topics and angles; and of which sensitive topics to avoid. It’s “not overt censorship,” says Eric Olander, journalist and founder of the ChinaAfrica Project, an online resource exploring the growing relationship between the two. “Most of it is self-censorship.” However, directives to major state organizations with coverage instructions are at times leaked and posted online. Confucius Institutes have also been criticized for teaching political ideology that favours China, under the guise of spreading culture and language awareness. A study by the National Association of Scholars “found that to a large extent, universities have made improper concessions that jeopardize academic freedom and institutional autonomy.” Media experts generally describe the Western news media approach as adversarial “watchdog” journalism. Zhang Yanqiu, the deputy dean of journalism at the Communications University of China in Beijing, identifies Chinese media’s approach as “constructive journalism”—that is positive and solution-focused news formats, narratives, angles, and styles of debate. In the long term, says Madrid-Morales, China’s massive news expansion could “create a very different way of understanding journalism and news”. Developing countries that are still forming their media model could end up taking cues from China’s journalism philosophy, making “constructive journalism” the norm; especially given that China is training foreign journalists from Africa, Asia, and Europe at its domestic institutions. The problem with constructive journalism, Madrid-Morales says, is that news is presented in a non-controversial way, to avoid creating enemies or animosity. The risk is that “you stop becoming a watchdog, and then, you become a lap dog.”
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Case study: Coverage of Bo Xilai corruption scandal Bo Xilai was a fast-rising Communist Party star, once tipped for high political office, before becoming embroiled by one of the biggest scandals to rock China in years. Bo came to prominence first as mayor of Dalian, and later as the governor of Liaoning province, before serving as China’s Minister of Commerce, a member of the Politburo, and as Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing from 2007 until his downfall. He was removed from his posts and expelled from the party in 2012, after his top lieutenant and police chief, Wang Lijun, sought asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu. Wang claimed to have information about Bo and his wife Gu Kailai relating to the 2011 murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. In 2013, Bo was found guilty of all charges including corruption, embezzlement, and abuse of power, and sentenced to prison for life. His wife, Gu, was convicted of Heywood’s murder, and given a suspended death sentence. Wang was also put on trial on charges of defection, taking bribes, and abuse of power and was handed a 15-year sentence. It was a remarkable downfall for Bo and Gu, both of whom came from families of China’s political elite. Authorities in China worked overtime trying to prevent coverage of the scandal, and to control the information that trickled out on social media. The story was essentially too big for the government to avoid acknowledging, so authorities took steps to control the information that was released to the public. State media, for example, received detailed directives on how to shape coverage, including instructions not to report on certain aspects of the developing story. Foreign organizations were at times breaking key news ahead of state media announcements. Reuters, for example, reported that Bo had been removed from his party posts and was being investigated
for disciplinary issues before official state outlet Xinhua announced the same, first on its Sina Weibo account. Numerous other foreign outlets covered the dramatic story in depth. A few days after the story broke, newspapers across China published the same editorial on their front pages about the need for greater party discipline. The decision to run the same coverage “is a tactic often used during period of intense political sensitivity, such as the one that followed the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989,” wrote the Wall Street Journal in a report regarding the editorial. The Chinese court conducting Bo’s trial also set up a Sina Weibo account, and published frequent posts throughout in a rare move toward openness and transparency that drew immense public attention. In reality, access to the trial remained limited. Foreign media were not allowed to attend the trial, and information disclosed was believed to have been heavily edited, according to the BBC.
China-Africa relations Over the last two decades, China has grown from a relatively small player to Africa’s largest trade partner. Foreign direct investment (FDI) from China into Africa grew 40 percent a year over the past decade, according to a study by global consulting firm McKinsey. For China, Africa is a source for valuable natural resources, including oil and iron ore; a relatively new market for exports and investment; and an opportunity for Chinese firms to expand further internationally as they carry out these investment projects. From 2003 to 2010, more than half of China’s FDI flows into Africa went into the oil industry, according to the US International Trade Commission. State-owned Chinese oil and gas firm Sinopec, for example, has invested billions in Egypt, which has the sixth largest proved oil reserves in Africa, according to the World Energy Council.
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Investment and engagement is expected to increase, given China’s massive US$1 trillion “Belt and Road” plan. Announced in 2013, it seeks to strengthen its investment, influence, and trade links to the rest of the globe. The plan aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with a vast logistics and transport network, using roads, ports, railway tracks, pipelines, airports, transnational electric grids, and even fiber optic lines. It involves 65 countries, which together account for one-third of global GDP and 60 percent of the world’s population, or 4.5 billion people, according to Oxford Economics. Total trade between China and these “Belt and Road” countries reached over US$3 trillion from 2014 to 2016, and Chinese investment has surpassed US$50 billion, President Xi Jinping announced in May. Under the strategy, China has also set up 56 economic cooperation zones in 20 countries, which it claims has yielded US$1.1 billion in tax revenues and created 180,000 jobs in those nations. In 2017, China pledged an additional US$100 billion to finance projects under this ambitious initiative, which seeks to strengthen China’s investment, influence, and trade links with the rest of the globe. As of end-2015, China had already completed more than 1,000 projects in Africa, including 2,233 kilometers of rail construction, 3,530 kilometers of highway paving, and over 100 schools and hospitals. In January 2016, China announced it would help build a series of transportation grids using railroads, bridges, and roads, linking all 54 African countries. In May 2017, Kenya opened a new rail line connecting the capital Nairobi to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa. The US$3.8 billion, 480 kilometre line, Kenya’s largest infrastructure project in five decades, was Chinese-built and funded with a 90 percent loan from the Export-Import Bank of China and a 10 percent loan from the Kenyan government. China
is involved in, or has completed, a host of other projects in Africa, including a railway in Angola, light rail in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa, and a power plant in Kenya. As part of increased cooperation, China is also training thousands of African officials and workers in a variety of areas, including political governance, agriculture, engineering, and journalism. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also holds regular conferences, dialogues and exchanges. On the ground, perception of the Chinese can differ from country to country. Generally, there is a broad sentiment that China is in Africa simply for business, though the on-the-ground impact of Chinese investment and involvement on specific communities differs by project and country. One area of contention has been over the issue of imported labour. There are roughly one million Chinese in Africa; one-third, or perhaps more, are temporary migrant labourers, employed by Chinese state-owned companies working on projects supported by Chinese financing to African countries. In 2016, there were protests in Lamu, Kenya, after local news reports said that a Chinese company building East Africa’s first coal plant would import 40 percent of its labour from China. Against the backdrop of high unemployment, the idea of Chinese workers taking jobs away from African workers has been a source of tension, although Chinese companies do make local labour hires. African migrant workers are also traveling to China, many of whom end up in the southern port city of Guangzhou. The destination has been so popular that the city has been dubbed, “Chocolate City,” though China’s broader economic downturn has seen Africans begin to leave.
Chinese media in Africa China’s state media organizations have a long history spanning decades in Africa, starting from
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the 1950s. Engagement petered out during the Cultural Revolution, but has returned in a big way since the early 2000s. State media organizations have quickly expanded their operations in Africa, operating numerous bureaus and employing hundreds of journalists. Xinhua now has roughly 30 bureaus on the continent. In 2008, it launched its China African News Service; in 2011, it teamed up with telecommunications firm Safaricom to start a mobile newspaper in Kenya. Its stories are printed in English-language newspapers in Africa, sometimes without attributing the content’s origin. In some cases, Xinhua gives access to these stories away for free. In January 2012, CCTV/CGTN launched in Nairobi, the first broadcast center outside its Beijing headquarters. The state broadcaster also operates a number of bureaus in Africa, and produces Englishlanguage content as well as Mandarin-language stories about Africa for broadcast in China. KBC, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, has begun broadcasting one hour of CGTN news, from 11 pm until midnight, a primetime slot that was previously filled by CNN. For some Kenyans, KBC is the only channel they have access to, and CGTN has struck similar agreements in other countries, including Ghana. China Daily launched Africa Weekly, a regional African newspaper edition in English, in late 2012. China Radio International, China’s main external radio station, also has a presence with a handful of AM and FM channels. ChinAfrica, a monthly magazine, is based in Johannesburg, and published in English and French. In 2013, investors linked to the Chinese government partnered with allies of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) to purchase the Independent News and Media, a media group that publishes daily newspapers in all
of the major South African cities. The company’s new owners now include China International Television Corp. and China-Africa Development Fund. Local media coverage at the time reported the Communist Party ties and criticized the direct investment, highlighting concerns about media freedom. “China is seeking to win over the hearts and minds of everyday people who have traditionally learned about the country through global political news circles,” wrote Yu-Shan Wu in a paper about the rise of Chinese state media in Africa. “The state-led initiative is institutionalizing soft power, most recently creating its own news providers to tell the China narrative.” Chinese state media outlets in Africa have both Chinese and foreign nationals on staff. When CGTN launched in Africa, it actively recruited African journalists, attracting numerous candidates with considerably higher pay – sometimes as much as three times what a journalist could make at a local outlet, according to Kevin Otiende, a former Nairobi-based reporter for CGTN. Otiende was among 12 hired out of roughly 120 candidates. “We were all enticed by the figures that were posted to us,” he said. The state broadcaster has also splashed out by hiring well-known African presenters to anchor their programming. Many African journalists are also travelling to China for their professional development. Between 2004 and 2011, a total of 300 African media managers and executives from 48 countries attended training organized by China’s State Council. China offers all-expenses paid trips for African journalists and press officers to take part in short training courses. It also offers university scholarships and has created a China-Africa Press Exchange Center. The Communication University of China has also trained and educated more than 100 journalists and officials from Africa. Aside from the news media, Chinese organizations have also invested heavily in African
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communications infrastructure. In 2010, Chinese firm ZTE was awarded a US$378 million contract to expand South African mobile operator Cell C’s networks. Although ZTE is publicly listed in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and is not a state-owned enterprise, the company has engaged in major foreign deals under China’s Belt and Road plan. Such transnational agreements generally occur with Communist Party blessing. Another example is a 2001 agreement of some US$10 million for China to help Guinea build a radio and television network. Chinese-owned StarTimes expanded to Africa in 2002, and is now in 30 countries on the continent, with roughly 10 million digital television subscribers. In 2013, StarTimes acquired On Digital Media’s TopTV and established StarSat, a subscription-based satellite platform offering Chinese and non-Chinese content. Its packages are fairly affordable, and content includes Chinese dramas, movies, and documentaries dubbed in English or other languages. It isn’t uncommon for a foreign television company to provide content from its home country, but China has not masked its soft power ambitions, especially when it comes to Africa.
Coverage of Africa by Chinese media organizations Chinese state media coverage of the continent is generally positive. “The mantra you keep hearing constantly is the idea that the West has portrayed Africa too critically, and China is going to be portraying Africa truthfully, and truthfully tends to mean in a non-critical way,” said Madrid-Morales. “It’s something that resonates very well with local elites, and you will hardly see content on CGTN that portrays the government in a negative light, and obviously that’s appealing.” Otiende said that while working at CGTN, “I liked the fact that [CGTN] wanted to come and project a
positive image of Africa.” “They told us ‘we are not here to cover AIDS, we are not here to cover war, we are not here to cover corruption. We are here to show that you have super nice highways, airports, roads; we are here to help you project that.’” However, stories he pitched at daily editorial meetings about corruption, scandals, or anything critical were “a red line, which cannot be crossed”. Those stories didn’t resonate with his Chinese managers, and were “dead on arrival”. Negative stories “will just die a natural death; they will not be covered, there will be no explanations, and it’s just for you to put one plus one together.” “I believe China is in Africa for business, and you cannot bite the hand that feeds you… I think they are trying to show, ‘we are your partner,’” he says. “Basically, I think it is a wide economic objective, which is not even controlled from Nairobi [CGTN’s regional Africa headquarters]; I think that is just policy that comes from Beijing, so they were just playing by the rules.” Otiende left CGTN and now runs his own communications firm. Despite having worked for the company for roughly three and a half years, he rarely watched Chinese news as he felt it was boring. China itself has made it clear that media reports should promote and help further China-Africa ties: “Chinese and African media should promote pragmatic cooperation,” said Guo Weimin, Vice Minister of the State Council Information Office, during the China-Africa Media Forum in Johannesburg in August 2017. “Mutual understanding and recognition between the Chinese and African media are far from enough, and there is a large amount of room and potential for cooperation between Chinese and African media.” Chinese state media rarely breaks stories. For instance, foreign media outlets were the first to publish a story in December 2017 that Chinese
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state-owned oil and gas giant, Sinopec, was looking to sell its Nigeria assets. “Sinopec is an organization so entangled with the Chinese state; if CGTN is unable to break such a story what story is CGTN ever going to break?” said Madrid-Morales. China’s brand of journalism is “very bland, neutral”, he said. “That is very comfortable to most heads of state and government. They know they are not going to get into trouble, from a journalistic point of view. It serves certain audiences that are happy to watch sort of a non-adversarial, [non]-critical view of Africa. But to the majority of audiences, this seems like a very boring kind of journalism.” At the same time, this sort of coverage helps Chinese state media organizations get better access to the very top. Chinese state media outlets have been able to secure interviews with high-ranking heads of state and officials, who are more likely to consider a “softball” interview with a Chinese outlet than the grilling they might receive from other foreign journalists. Chinese state media organizations also devote extensive resources to covering high-level diplomatic events, such as African Union summits, which may help governments look more favourably upon China. Much of Chinese state media’s coverage focuses on Chinese-supported projects in Africa and highlights bilateral cooperation and engagement. Recent headlines on China Daily Africa include: • “Chinese embassy spreads holiday cheer at Children’s Home in Kenya,” 15 December 2017 • “Algerian boy, 12, wins Shenzhen talent contest,” 11 December 2017 • “Ethiopian FM urges strengthened EthiopiaChina ties,” 5 December 2017 • “Chinese naval hospital ship concludes humanitarian mission in Tanzania,” 27 November 2017
• “Cote d’Ivoire inaugurates Chinese-built biggest hydropower dam,” 3 November 2017 The stories read like press releases, quoting Chinese and African officials supporting the relevant projects and partnerships, and often mentioning job creation. Coverage of the contested Lamu coal plant in Chinese state media does not mention the more controversial issue of pollution; an angle that other international media have reported. Although it’s clear that Chinese state media approaches its coverage of Africa in a noncontroversial way, what remains unclear is how centralized this approach is. “Sometimes, we’re not always sure how much control there is on a minute level,” said Barry van Wyk, project coordinator at the China-Africa Reporting Project at South Africa’s University of Witswatersrand. But “it definitely happens… people who work at CGTN or Xinhua, they are aware that you need to apply a very strong self-filter yourself.” There are few statistics on how many Africans are consuming Chinese state media news content, aside from basic subscription or distribution numbers, nor is there a way to quantify its impact. What’s more, Chinese state media in Africa tend to use traditional outlets rather than mobile technology and social media. This means they could be losing on engaging a more mobile-friendly younger audience. Still, it may not matter how extensive the reach to the general public; if Chinese state media outlets can help African governments view China in a more positive light, then perhaps its soft power goals will have been realized. Chinese state media organizations also produce Chinese-language content for audiences back home. These generally take the form of feature stories rather than regional news, noted MadridMorales, and introduce different stories and ideas about Africa, for example a Chinese doctor fighting malaria in Mozambique. CGTN’s Chinese-
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language teams also cover major breaking news in Africa, but tend not to coordinate with their foreign-language counterparts. Outside of news, entertainment is also playing a role in exposing Chinese audiences to content about Africa, notes Olander. Wolf Warrior 2, a recent blockbuster movie, features a fictional Chinese soldier who finds himself in Africa protecting medical aid workers from local rebels and vicious arms dealers.
Case study: Kenya 2017 elections General elections took place in Kenya in August 2017. The reported results indicated that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta had been re-elected with 55 percent of the vote. Kenya’s Supreme Court later annulled the results over irregularities raised by Kenyatta’s opponent, Raila Odinga. These included accusations of fake news reports and electoral fraud, as well as the murder of Chris Msando, a top election official. The second election, held in October, was similarly tumultuous; Kenyatta won again. During the election period, there were a number of protests, some deadly. Foreign (excluding Chinese) and African media outlets covered a diverse range of stories throughout the election cycle, including: • Irregularities with voting machines and confidence in their use leading up to the election. • Murder of Chris Msando, a top election official in charge of voting machines, which occurred shortly before the August elections. • Rise of ethnic tensions in Kenya over the elections. • Candidate profiles and backgrounds. • Deadly clashes between police and protestors. Chinese state media also covered the Kenyan
elections, but largely avoided mentioning the above issues. A search on the China Daily Africa website for Chris Msando’s name, for instance, pulls up zero search results. Chinese state media used more benign language to report the same incidents. For example: • Xinhua News: “Voting starts in Kenya amid boycott in opposition strongholds,” 26 October 2017. “In Kibera, a slum in the capital Nairobi, angry youths chained the gates of Olympic Primary School to prevent voters from accessing the polling center. Police dispersed them and later opened the school.” • The Guardian: “Kenyan president says he is willing to negotiate after election boycott,” 26 October 2017. “In Nairobi’s Kibera slum, police fired teargas and live rounds into the air as crowds of youthful opposition supporters threw rocks and tried to storm a polling station at a primary school. Two people were injured with suspected bullet wounds.” Coverage of the results by Chinese state media highlighted the potential for continued cooperation after the election. For example: • China Daily Africa: “Kenya-China ties to grow even stronger, experts say,” 8 December 2017. “Kenya and China will strengthen mutually beneficial economic relations after the reelection of President Uhuru Kenyatta for another five-year term, experts say… Kenyatta, was declared the winner of the country’s repeat election on October 30, garnering 7.48 million votes, or 98 percent of the vote. His win was upheld by Kenya’s Supreme Court on November 20.” This piece also reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations to Kenyatta, and has no detail regarding the contested August results.
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6. www.confucius.ucla.edu/about-us/confucius-institutesworldwide 7. www.wm.edu/sites/confuciusinstitute/k12programs/ ciclassrooms/index.php 8. www.saiia.org.za/occasional-papers/31-the-rise-of-chinas-state-led-media-dynasty-in-africa/file 9. www.cfr.org/backgrounder/media-censorship-china 10. www.chinaafricaproject.com/about-us/ 11. https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2017/12/2017-propagandadirectives-january-trump-smog-missing-tycoon/ 12. www.nas.org/images/documents/confucius_institutes/ NAS_confuciusInstitutes.pdf 13. www.cmi.no/file/2922-.pdf 14. www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-10/17/ content_27077588.htm 15. www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-02/29/ content_310359.htm 16. https://cpj.org/reports/2013/03/challenged-china-mediacensorship-timeline-bo-xilai.php 17. www.reuters.com/article/us-china-politics-bo/chinaejects-bo-from-elite-ranks-wife-suspected-of-murderidUSBRE8390KT20120410 18. www.ft.com/content/d67b90f0-d140-11e1-895700144feabdc0 19. www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527023036240045 77341442159536560 20. www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-23806657
27. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/201705/31/c_136326472.htm 28. www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2017/07/06/ china-and-the-east-africa-railways-beyond-full-industrychain-export/ 29. www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2016/07/05/ political-party-training-chinas-ideological-push-in-africa/ 30. www.focac.org/eng/zfgx/ 31. www.saisperspectives.com/2016issue/2016/5/12/ n947s9csa0ik6kmkm0bzb0hy584sfo 32. www.focac.org/eng/zfgx/t816730.htm 33. www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2012-12/14/ content_16016334.htm 34. www.chinafrica.cn/About_Us/ 35. http://asq.africa.ufl.edu/files/v16a11.Leslie_M.pdf 36. www.politicsweb.co.za/party/compcom-approves-part-iiof-acquisition-of-indepen 37. www.politicsweb.co.za/opinion/chinaanc-alliance-athreat-to-media-freedom-in-sa 38. www.saiia.org.za/occasional-papers/31-the-rise-of-chinas-state-led-media-dynasty-in-africa/file 39. http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/iez/10700.pdf 40. www.focac.org/eng/ltda/dwjbzjjhys/t954620.htm 41. http://asq.africa.ufl.edu/files/v16a11.Leslie_M.pdf 42. www.zte.com.cn/global/about/press-center/press-
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clipping/201001/353309 43. www.saiia.org.za/occasional-papers/31-the-rise-of-chinas-state-led-media-dynasty-in-africa/file 44. http://en.startimes.com.cn/companyprofile/index.htm 45. https://technology.ihs.com/467958/startimes-launcheslow-cost-packages-in-south-africa 46. http://english.gov.cn/state_council/ ministries/2017/08/15/content_281475790565235.htm 47. https://in.reuters.com/article/china-sinopec-divestiture/ exclusive-chinas-sinopec-looking-to-sell-nigeria-businesssources-idINKBN1E01YC 48. https://qz.com/1047519/a-quarter-of-kenyas-electronicvoting-stations-wont-have-network-coverage-to-send-theresults/ 49. www.ft.com/content/1cfa53ae-7e7a-11e7-9108edda0bcbc928 50. www.reuters.com/article/us-kenya-election/in-kenyapolarizing-election-re-run-rekindles-ethnic-tensionsidUSKBN1CX07N 51. www.africanews.com/2017/08/02/meet-the-eightcandidates-for-kenya-s-2017-presidential-elections// 52. www.cbc.ca/news/world/kenya-election-1.4372542 53. http://newssearch.chinadaily.com.cn/en/ search?query=chris+msando 54. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/201710/26/c_136707762.htm 55. www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/26/kenyanselection-rerun-contested-kenyatta-odinga 56. http://africa.chinadaily.com.cn/weekly/2017-12/08/ content_35257737.htm
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The Indian Media’s Coverage of Africa Claire Felter and Ankit Panda
With the emergence of the “Africa Rising” narrative in the 2000s, as dozens of countries across the continent saw impressive economic growth, one might have expected Africa to feature more prominently in international news stories. Yet, while Africanists have begun to debate the legitimacy of that narrative, as many African states continue to face challenges from poor governance to food and water insecurity, the continent still ranks poorly when it comes to mainstream international news stories. Look to digital media, however, and the number of places to access information about the continent has proliferated. Many of India’s more than 1.3 billion people have at their fingertips the latest news about Robert Mugabe’s downfall in Zimbabwe or another attack by the militant group Al-Shabaab. India’s media market has grown rapidly in recent years, at more than double the rate estimated for the industry globally, and traditional news sources such as newspapers and radio still increase their audience. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, spending and investment in the industry has likewise spiked, and by 2021 the country is expected to be among the top ten markets for media and entertainment globally.1 Smart, thorough coverage of the continent by nonAfrican outlets is relatively new, and readers around the globe are faced with choosing from a mishmash of media start-ups, blogs, and news channels to get their African news. This paper looks at the opportunities India has to improve its coverage of the continent as its media industry broadens.
A primer on Indo-African relations India’s relationship with the African continent, particularly along its eastern coast by way of the Indian Ocean, goes back centuries. In the years following India’s independence in 1947, relations between New Delhi and various African states developed rapidly, with a general sense of post-
colonial solidarity underpinning many of these relationships. During the Cold War—particularly the early Cold War, before India concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union—relations with some African states, notably Egypt, Ghana, Algeria, and Ethiopia, grew under the aegis of their mutual participation in the Nonaligned Movement. Since the end of the Cold War and India’s economic liberalization in the early 1990s, New Delhi has maintained a strong interest in the continent and expanded its economic relationship with many of its African partners. Trade with the region has shot up in recent years, increasing from US$5 billion in 2000 to more than US$50 billion in 2015, and private investment has surged. The country also held its inaugural IndiaAfrica Forum Summit (IAFS) in 2008, with leaders from fourteen African nations in attendance. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stepped up efforts to further boost economic and diplomatic ties with the region since taking office in 2014. Heads of state and government from more than 40 African countries attended the third India-Africa summit in 2015, which was considered India’s largest diplomatic outreach in decades. Largely due to its deep trade roots, India shares some cultural similarities with East Africa, including food and religion, and Hindi words are found in local languages. Eastern and southern Africa are also home to large Indian diasporas, estimated to be around three million people in total.2
How has India’s media evolved? The Indian media landscape today, comprising news websites, television and radio broadcasting, newspapers and magazines, among others, is a far cry from the mainly regional newspapers that emerged under British rule in the 1780s. The Times of India, one of the country’s most familiar print and online English-language news outlets, was
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established in the 1830s as The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce. Radio broadcasts first entered Indian homes in the late 1920s, and television in the late 1950s. Economic liberalization in the 1990s fostered the rapid expansion of the country’s media and increased access to news. Notably, viewership swelled with the introduction of satellite and cable television networks during this time, as did online readership in the following decade with the proliferation of digital publications. Today, options for news consumption are varied: there are thousands of newspapers printed in the country and, unlike in the United States and parts of Western Europe, circulation has increased in the last decade. Viewers have access to hundreds of television and radio stations and the number of online news sites and blogs has proliferated. The vast majority of publications and broadcasters are privately run, though India does have a public broadcasting agency. Competition within India’s private media space remains robust, with print, broadcast, and digital mediums vying for advertising revenues. According to a 2015 report by KPMG and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, print and broadcast command nearly equivalent advertising revenues, while digital trails behind. Broadcast revenues are expected to outpace print as the Indian middle classes continue to grow and television sales increase. According to KPMG, with 168 million households with televisions, India is the second largest television market after China.3 The media is generally considered free and independent, though some privately owned media companies with political ties have been known to self-censor. Relationships between the media and politicians, lobbyists, and business executives, says the research and advocacy group Freedom House, have “dented public confidence in the press.”4 India
ranked 136 of 180 countries in a 2017 press freedom index by the watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
Case study: Vyapam scandal Before assessing how the Indian media has performed in covering episodes of corruption in Africa, a baseline case merits consideration: the Vyapam scandal. In 2013, authorities in the state of Madhya Pradesh arrested 20 people for their intent to impersonate candidates for a premedical school exam administered by the state’s Professional Examination Board (MPPEB) in 2009. The MPPEB is a state-incorporated autonomous organization that administers entrance exams whose results are used to place candidates into government jobs and various universities. MPPEB-administered exams are taken by as many as three million candidates each year. The Vyapam scandal came to involve hundreds of people, including state politicians, bureaucrats, and business executives. Over the course of the investigation, authorities discovered sustained and systematic efforts to rig exams by hiring test-takers to sit in for candidates and sharing answer sheets obtained through bribes to Vyapam administrators. In 2015, coverage of the scandal reached new heights after hundreds had been arrested, including senior state officials; and Madhya Pradesh’s former minister of education, Laxmikant Sharma, was implicated in the scandal. Finally, in July 2015, the Supreme Court of India transferred investigative authority to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the Indian state’s primary investigative agency. In November 2017, the CBI announced new charges against the heads of four private medical colleges and officials in the Madhya Pradesh medical education department. Despite the scale of the scandal, which is among the largest of its kind in Indian history, coverage was intermittent and perfunctory, particularly before 2015; and although it made national headlines,
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investigative work was limited. Following the national election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2014 general elections, much of the coverage of the Vyapam scam used the central government’s response as a bellwether for the BJP’s performance on corruption more generally. During its election campaign, the party had pushed a ‘zero tolerance’ line on corruption. Its victory was in part assured by a strong wave of anti-incumbency sentiment toward the Indian National Congress, which was perceived to have tolerated and participated in a range of corruption scandals over its ten years in power. As an example, the Deccan Herald observed in July 2015 that the “scam in admission to professional colleges and in recruitment to government jobs in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh is clearly an indication that the state’s institutions have degenerated and are rotten beyond belief.” Other reports similarly diagnosed the scandal as a symptom of the state’s corrupt political leadership. Hindi newspapers Jansatta and Dainik Jagaran criticized the state government’s handling of the investigation— particularly the refusal to treat several deaths associated with the Vyapam investigation as suspicious, including that of journalist Akshay Singh in July 2015.5 Eventually, the unaccountability for the several unexplained deaths associated with the scandal became a rallying cry for Indian coverage, with multiple prominent broadcast personalities, including Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt, and Rajdeep Sardesai, taking up the cause. Our further case studies will show that the kind of frenzied and critical coverage the Indian media affords to domestic corruption scandals is sharply divergent from its treatment of corruption in other places, including Africa.
Covering Africa outside the West While China has made a tremendous push to report African affairs in recent years with new
ventures such as CGTV Africa, Indian efforts have been sporadic. According to Bobby Ghosh, former editor-in-chief of The Hindustan Times, an English Indian newspaper with nationwide circulation and a prominent web presence, no Indian media agency currently maintains a full-time correspondent on the African continent. This includes wire agencies like the Press Trust of India (PTI) and Asian News International (ANI). PTI, the largest Indian news agency, includes multiple offices outside of India, including in Southeast Asia, Europe, and in neighbouring countries, but none in Africa. Correspondents with these agencies travel to Africa intermittently on assignment. The last major Indian news organization to send a full-time correspondent to Africa was The Hindu. In 2012 Aman Sethi became its only reporter in Africa and the only journalist employed full-time by an Indian news organization on the continent. “In keeping with Africa’s growing importance for India and its rising weight in the global economy and international politics, The Hindu has posted a correspondent, Aman Sethi, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to cover this exciting continent for our readers,” wrote then editor-in-chief Siddharth Varadarajan on 22 August 2012. “In the 1960s, Batuk Gathani filed regular reports for us from Nairobi and The Hindu’s last Africa correspondent was M.S. Prabhakara, who reported out of postApartheid South Africa for a decade till 2002,” he added. “Reporting Africa through Indian eyes means seeing not just the wars and tragedies, which is all that the West sees, but the hundreds of little triumphs that no one talks about.”
Case study: South Africa Leading up to an eighth try in South Africa’s parliament for a vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma in the summer of 2017, opposition parties and breakaway factions of the country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC)
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highlighted corruption allegations regarding the president’s connection to the Gupta brothers, a trio of businessmen who arrived from India in the 1990s and are reported to be billionaires in the South African currency. The brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, are accused of exercising undue influence in recent years over cabinet appointments and firings, and the issuing of government contracts. Two of Zuma’s children have worked as directors of Gupta-owned firms. “What started off...as collusion in relatively lowlevel corruption between the Zuma family and the Guptas has evolved into state capture and the repurposing of state institutions,” writes the Johannesburg-based Public Affairs Research Institute in a May 2017 report.6 While South African outlets such as the Times offer vigorous coverage about alleged corruption by the Zuma-Gupta network, including sometimes scathing op-eds on the president and his cronies, print and digital stories in India about the corruption scandal have largely come from Western-based wires such as Agence France Press, the Associated Press, and Reuters. There are a few notable distinctions: NDTV published a piece by the Press Trust of India titled, “‘We Are Being Unfairly Targeted’ Say South Africa’s Scandal-Hit Guptas,” in August 2016.7 The piece reports the Guptas’ announcement that month that they would relinquish their shares in South African businesses by the end of the year, a development covered by most outlets following the story; however, it leads with the Guptas’ insistence that they are targets of a South African media trying to gain favour with opposition politicians. A year later, the Economic Times published the story, “How the Guptas of Saharanpur came to be known as the Zuptas of South Africa”.8 The piece mixes storytelling on the Guptas dramatic rise from a “humble business background” with reporting on both Indian and South African banks closing
the accounts of Gupta-controlled companies. It mentions several times their denial of the allegations against them, and goes on to provide a detailed rebuttal from a family representative. The inclusion of such a rebuttal stands out: while the Times may not necessarily favour the Guptas, the outlet is at least giving the family a voice that most others are not willing to provide.
Case study: Kenyan election crisis Political turmoil erupted in Kenya in August 2017 when the Supreme Court overturned incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta’s general election victory, upholding veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga’s charges of irregularities and mismanagement by the electoral commission. A rerun of the presidential election was set for October, but Odinga withdrew from the poll less with less than two weeks to go, saying that there was no prospect of a credible election. The vote went ahead with Odinga’s name still on the ballot, though many opposition supporters boycotted the vote at Odinga’s request, and Kenyatta was once again declared the winner. Odinga challenged the new result, but the court backed Kenyatta’s victory in a November ruling. While Indian outlets primarily pulled wire stories in their coverage of the election cycle, their framing of unfolding events sometimes sharply contrasted with that of other non-African media. For example, a piece published by the Paris-based wire agency Agence France Presse (AFP) on the day of the October rerun appeared on the France24 website with the headline, “Polling stations open in Kenya despite calls for boycott.”9 On the Hindustan Times site, the story ran with the slightly more provocative headline “Sporadic clashes as Kenya votes in disputed re-election.”10 The two stories differ somewhat too, though the text is taken from the same material. A subsection of the HT version is titled “‘I don’t want a bullet’,” a paraphrased
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quote by a local polling official. The quote does not appear in the France24 story. HT places the same focus on sporadic violence in a slideshow published some three weeks later, following Odinga’s return to Kenya ahead of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the October rerun. In the images aggregated from wire agencies, police forces fire tear gas and throw stones at opposition supporters gathered in Nairobi for Odinga’s homecoming. Photo captions state that around 70 people had been killed since August, at least five of those on the weekend of Odinga’s return.11 The slideshow fails to offer context that others might deem necessary for such a piece: there is no mention of the 2007–08 election crisis in which more than a thousand people died. While the deaths from the 2017 election cycle should in no way be shrugged off, it remains of significance for readers that the country saw far less violence amid the more recent political turmoil than it did after the 2007 elections a decade ago.
The state of India’s coverage of Africa The case studies above, while anecdotal in nature, are representative of the lack of diverse, original reporting by Indian outlets on events in African countries. Indian media is not alone in this: it remains rare for a news organization outside the continent to regularly publish its own content on African current events—many still rely on international wire agencies for what might be considered the big news stories from the region, or simply decide not to offer coverage. This is not to say that the majority of Indian readers or viewers don’t know what’s happening on the continent: they have access to the same Reuters and Associated Press stories reaching audiences in other parts of the globe. Print and digital newspapers, as well as broadcasters, show particular interest in members of the Indian diaspora living in Africa, as might be
expected. Finding coverage of the Gupta brothers is easier than that of most African-born business moguls or politicians for this very reason. The Times of India and NDTV both have “Indians abroad” sections, and the NDTV story on the Guptas discussed above was published under this category. Reports on attacks against or deaths of Indians in Africa, though largely isolated incidents, are also common. Though not qualifying as foreign news coverage, Indian outlets also cover stories of violence against Africans working or studying in India. In 2017, two such stories received viral coverage in India. One concerned a young Kenyan woman’s beating by a mob in south India and the other concerned mob attacks against two Nigerian students near New Delhi. While coverage and commentary appeared to condemn these attacks as driven by racist and prejudiced attitudes, reports often appeared uncritical. For instance, the attacks near New Delhi were reported to have taken place after an Indian student’s untimely death was linked to tainted drugs sold to him by the Nigerians. Early coverage of the mob violence made no reference to the exaggerated racist fears that led to the attacks. For example, an early Hindustan Times report noted that “the victims of the mob attack were doing their evening shopping… oblivious to the undercurrent of anger against Africans.” After the incidents elicited diplomatic concern from African embassies in India, the coverage changed tone, but still focused on how the attacks affected India’s international image. NDTV ran a headline a day later that captured this change: “In Big Embarrassment for India, African Envoys Slam Racist Attacks.” With the Indian government’s refusal to accept that the attacks against Africans in 2017 were motivated by racist or xenophobic sentiment, much media coverage simply reported what both sides—the Indian Ministry of External
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Affairs and a group of 44 African ambassadors in India—said, and moved on. Articles probing Indian attitudes and prejudices toward Africans were not found in mainstream Indian outlets, though smaller, independent publications addressed the issue. “Africa gets relatively little attention in the Indian media today,” says Bobby Ghosh, a prominent Indian journalist and commentator, who was most recently the editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times. Ghosh, in an interview, remarks that this wasn’t always the case in India. In the 1980s, the Indian media’s coverage of Africa was more nuanced. “Back then, the Non-Aligned Movement and Commonwealth still retained some meaning, and there was a sense of connection between India and post-colonial African states,” says Ghosh. “The struggle against Apartheid resonated with Indians.” In modern times, the primary Indian interest in Africa, as far as press coverage is concerned, relates to business and financial news, as well as sports, says Ghosh. “When Africa makes news in India, it is often because of racist attacks on African students in India,” he adds. Ghosh’s views are largely echoed by Suhasini Haider, the chief diplomatic correspondent for The Hindu and an experienced journalist covering India’s foreign affairs. “I don’t think the Indian media has covered issues in Africa adequately, and must ensure deeper and more frequent reporting from the African continent,” she says. Her diagnosis for the shortcomings in Indian coverage of African issues, including corruption and political instability, is that “media organizations anywhere cover issues and stories depending on either how engaged their governments are or on how much of the diaspora lives there.” “On both these counts, India has lagged behind in ties with African countries and the media’s lack of coverage reflects that,” she continues. Referencing The Hindu’s 2012 decision to post a full-time correspondent on the African continent,
Haider laments that the move “was not sustainable over a long period of time.” When asked about the Indian media’s coverage of stories concerning corruption and political instability in Africa, Ghosh does not hesitate: “These stories are not covered with any great nuance; such interest as it exists is mostly desultory.” “Some digital outlets have kept an eye on the Gupta scandal, but none has followed it closely,” Ghosh adds. “Africa is not one country, and specific parts of Africa do evince special interest [in India],” Haider observes. Haider cites South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, and Tunisia as among the African countries that receive disproportionate attention in Indian news coverage due to a range of factors. In South Africa’s case, participation in the BRICS grouping—along with India, China, Russia, and Brazil—merits closer coverage. For South Africa, Kenya, and Tanzania, the presence of a significant Indian diaspora and long-term cultural ties also influences coverage. “[Kenya President Uhuru] Kenyatta’s decision to accept South Asians as a 44th tribe raised much interest [in India],” Haider says. Overall, however, Haider shares Ghosh’s assessment. “Most media organizations in India tend to depend on local agencies or international/Western organizations for the news from Africa,” she concludes. Africa “does lack layered coverage,” she notes, adding that the Indian media largely caters to audience interests, which lie largely outside of Africa as far as foreign news is concerned. These critiques echo Kenya-based writer Patrick Gathara’s observations about the African media’s own coverage of African affairs: “Remember that African news outlets are dependent on Western-based international wires to tell Africa’s story. Also recall that they take their cue on what their audiences need to hear from Western news outlets.”
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What lies ahead for coverage of Africa? There is plenty of room for increasing the breadth and quality of outside coverage of African news. In India, moving toward thoughtful original reporting will likely first require strides to reduce cultural and racial bias. In March 2017, author and rights activist Jael Silliman penned an op-ed called, “It’s time for Africa,” published in The Hindu.12 In it, Silliman argues that India must take seriously new efforts to combat racism toward Africans in the country, which remains pronounced. “Indians, with their preference for ‘whiteness’ and their total lack of information and exposure to Africa’s rich cultural heritage and its contemporary politics, have denied Africans in India their basic humanity,” she writes. Her point extends as well to Africans in their home countries, though the latter remain too far and, hence, of little significance to most Indians. However, the inclusion of Silliman’s piece is itself a first step toward dedicated reporting on Africa. Many of the shortcomings in Indian coverage of African affairs—particularly with regard to corruption and political instability—may be partially remedied as the continent’s economic ascent continues. The post-Cold War dip in Indian interest in Africa, as the salience of the Nonaligned Movement and the Commonwealth diminished in Indian foreign policy, may be replenished as Africa grows as a destination for Indian foreign investment, tourism, and strategic diplomacy. Above all, however, Indian media companies will have to find it sustainable, viable, and necessary to post correspondents to Africa, just as they do in East Asia, Europe, and North America. The Hindu’s experience with an Africa bureau was a result of forward-looking editorial leadership, which will also be necessary to expand the quality of foreign news coverage more broadly. If Indian editors and publishers contend with Africa’s growing relevance in the twenty-first century, they may see fit to invest in greater original reporting from the continent.
Currently, the Indian media’s trajectory in coverage of Africa isn’t too promising, but this could change with time.
Notes 1. www.pwc.in/industries/entertainment-and-media/globalentertainment-and-media-outlook-2017-2021.html 2. www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/15-facts-about-theindian-diaspora-in-africa 3. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_F4DpW10-5_ Y0IzaU5YbHJpN0k/view 4. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2017/ india 5. www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ journalist-from-tv-today-group-covering-vyapam-scamdies-suddenly/article7386904.ece 6. http://47zhcvti0ul2ftip9rxo9fj9.wpengine.netdna-cdn. com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Betrayl-of-a-promise. pdf 7. www.ndtv.com/indians-abroad/we-are-being-unfairlytargeted-south-africas-gupta-family-1452012 8. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/ corporate-trends/how-the-guptas-of-saharanpurcame-to-be-known-as-the-zuptas-of-south-africa/ articleshow/60101573.cms 9. www.france24.com/en/20171026-polling-booths-openkenya-despite-calls-boycott-vote 10. www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/sporadicclashes-as-kenya-votes-in-disputed-re-election/storydREMF75QngSNqUPlShn66I.html 11. www.hindustantimes.com/photos/world-news/photoskenya-election-5-killed-in-clashes-as-odinga-returns-tonairobi/photo-847UdBMSElHrDKFG9AdWaI.html 12. www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/its-timefor-africa/article17746754.ece
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Africa–Italy Lorenzo Bagnoli and Michele Luppi
In 2006, Italy was the single largest European contributor of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa. Italian oil company ENI accounted for most of the US$4 billion investment, but it signalled a wider change in Italian business circles: more and more Italian companies were looking to the African continent for opportunities. To support this trend, the Italian government began engaging more actively with Africa, promoting initiatives such as the Italy-Africa Ministerial Conference and Africa e Affari magazine’s Italy-Africa Business Week.
2015 saw an 80 percent increase in migration coverage in the print media and a 250 percent increase on TV news channels—coverage that was often patchy and without context. “On migration today the media focus mainly on the transit places. It doesn’t report what happens before or after, the places where it originates or the stories of the people or their journey. Also, when talking about conflict and terrorism the reporting is fragmented,” says Anna Meli, Director of COSPE, an Italian NGO that collaborated in the research.
Despite this renewed interest, stories about Africa in the Italian press, with the exception of small publications often linked to Catholic missionaries, such as Nigrizia magazine, remain deeply Eurocentric with a focus on immigration and terrorism. According to a recent study of news sources by Italian research institute Censis, 60.6 percent of Italians rely on mainstream TV news bulletins for their information, 35 percent look to Facebook and 22.4 percent to radio news. A report by research institute Osservatorio di Pavia analysing the primetime editions of seven leading Italian TV news channels between 2012 and 2017 found that only 1 in 10 world news stories was about Africa. The numbers show that 43 percent of stories were about Europe, 20 percent about North America, 12 percent about Asia, 11 percent about the Middle East, 9 percent about Africa, and 5 percent about Central and South America.
The trend is clear when we look at which African countries have featured prominently in the Italian media. Between January 2015 and July 2017 Libya received the most coverage (950 stories, or 9th place in the list of overall global coverage; the US was first with 5,291 stories). Next on the list are Egypt with 372 stories (11th overall position) and Tunisia with 372 stories (16th overall). The first sub-Saharan country on the list is Kenya in 35th position with 104 stories, followed by Nigeria in 38th position (96 stories), South Africa 51st (49 stories) and Mali 54th (40 stories). For the most part, these countries were either affected by terrorism or involved in migration. Completely absent from primetime news were Senegal, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Guinea Bissau and Burundi.
“The report draws a map where there are continents that come to the news only when there are terrorist attacks on European soil or immigration and they enter into relations with “our” world; maybe news fed by alarm and fear,” says president of the Italian National Press Federation (FNSI) Giulio Giulietti. It’s not by chance that when there was a surge in central Mediterranean migration, with arrivals in Italy increasing from 37,000 in 2008 to 170,000 in 2014, media coverage of African migration also increased. According to the Associazione Carta,
It’s important to note that Italian reporting on migration is often framed with an Italian political perspective. A 2016 study by Osservatorio di Pavia found that one in every two migration stories contained a comment by an Italian politician.
Immigration from Africa For years migration was a niche topic in the Italian media, but thanks to a small number of journalists it began to reach the public at large. Author Fabrizio Gatti researched his book Bilal (2007) by travelling migration routes from Senegal to Niger; and young freelancer Gabrile del Grande started his
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Fortress Europe blog in 2006 by reporting the news of migrant deaths in the central Mediterranean Sea. It was the steady increase in the number of migrants arriving and dying at sea that saw migration become a key topic in public, media and political discourse. On 3rd October 2013, a boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized off the coast of Lampedusa leaving 368 dead and 18 missing. That day had a huge emotional impact on the public and on the way in which the Italian media cover migration. After the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy the government, led by Prime Minister Enrico Letta, decided to launch Operation Mare Notrum, a humanitarian rescue mission. Right-wing parties and the centre right press were opposed to the scheme. They argued that the €9.5 million cost of the mission was too expensive and would encourage new arrivals. Such was the opposition to the scheme that it ended after one year. The presence of NGOs at sea after the end of Mare Nostrum received significant media coverage. There was so much misinformation about their actions that Osservatorio di Pavia complained that the media’s “toxic narration” was breeding mistrust towards the work of NGOs, who were even accused of colluding with traffickers. Think tanks such as GEFIRA presented partisan political ideas as neutral information and also accused the NGOs of being complicit with the traffickers. Despite a parliamentary commission rejecting the accusation, it attracted widespread public support. Stories of migration at sea increased by 78 percent in 2015, pushing interior minister Marco Minniti to create a ‘code of conduct’ for NGOs. During the same period the Italian government sealed a deal with Libyan militias to stop the influx of migrants in exchange for money, causing a loss of credibility for the already fragile government in Tripoli as well as further local instability, with
other militias fighting for control of the funding. Furthermore, while there has been international condemnation of the conditions in Libyan migrant detention centres, as well as reports of the sale into slavery of migrants on Libyan soil, there are not, with few exceptions, many voices against the government’s current policy. In the Italian media’s coverage of migration, then, Africa is absent from the discussion and migrants are denied a voice. While Syrians are depicted as refugees, young Africans are portrayed as economic migrants and have often been referred to as ‘clandestine’; a term that the Italian press association has banned because it considers it denigrating. The media does not talk about what pushed people to embark on this dangerous journey, and their country of origin is just a name, with no history or context. The continent is the victim of a wider generalization that depicts it as one big ‘country,’ where people are deprived of their background and cultural diversity. They are simply migrants that fit into mainstream prejudices and stereotypes.
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Greece’s Financial Crisis: Lessons from Media Coverage of the Economic Meltdown and the parellels with reporting on Africa Daniel Howden So many facets of the reporting, national and international, of Greece’s crisis in 2009 replicate the weaknesses of meida coverage of economic and political developments in Africa. Often in Greece, the independence of local journalists was compromised by business and political interests. Yet, the accuracy of many international reports was undermined by the power of an externally formulated and simplistic narrative and the reporters’ lack of context and local knowledge when working in Greece. At its worst, this generated the crassest of nationalist name calling, reminiscent of some of the hate speech blasting out on FM stations during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. “Instead, officials and media in other countries treated Greece and the Greeks as a special case, painting the Greek people as wastrels who were out to grab the hard-earned cash of taxpayers in other EU countries,” says Nikos Konstandaras, a columnist for Greek daily Kathimerini and contributor to the International New York Times. “This resulted in a surge of national stereotypes on both sides—with Greek populist media and politicians depicting the German leaders as Nazis and German populist media and politicians presenting the Greeks as arrogant cheats.” Before the economic crisis flared up in 2009, many foreign reporters treated the country as a quirky outpost of the European Union. On the southeastern edge of the EU, Greece was a backwater in news terms. Coverage of Greece in the 1980s and 1990s focused on its colourful politics. Following the death of firebrand Socialist leader Andreas Papandreou in 1996, attention turned to the country’s efforts at modernisation. Birthplace of the Olympic Games in the ancient world and venue of the first modern games in 1896, Greece won the bid to hold the
games again in 2004. It was both a nod to history and a sign that the modernisation project was working.
Calm before the storm After the Olympics, interest in Greece subsided. With one of the highest growth rates in the eurozone, it seemed to have turned a corner. Media organisations lost interest just the conditions for an economic meltdown were building. Al Jazeera, for example, was closing its bureau in Athens as the extent of the country’s fiscal woes began to emerge. It wasn’t the international media alone that missed the warning signs. Much of the national media in Greece failed to do its job, preferring to believe the politicians’ assurances that the economy was under control. The issue was addressed in a special report by Reuters journalists Stephen Grey and Dina Kyriakidou in December 2012: “Successive governments let broadcasters operate without proper licenses... This semi-regulated approach led to Greece having a large number of media outlets for its population of 11 million,” they wrote. In 2009, when the crisis broke out, the country had 39 national daily newspapers, 23 national Sunday papers, 14 national weekly papers, nine national TV stations, six of them privately owned, and numerous private radio stations. The Reuters report added: “A 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Athens, obtained by Wikileaks, noted: “How can all these media outlets operate profitably? They don’t. They are subsidized by their owners who, while they would welcome any income from media sales, use the media primarily to exercise political and economic influence.” The reporters discovered that some local journalists worked in the press offices of ministries and financial institutions. So those journalists warning of economic catastrophe were either ignored or
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shouted down by their counterparts who had reached comfortable arrangements with politicians or business people. Both foreign and local media were unprepared when in late 2009 the newly elected centre-left PASOK government revealed that Greece’s public deficit was far larger than previously admitted. This prompted bond yields to soar; Athens was shut out of the international markets.
The sheer number of places where you needed sources and knowledge if you wanted to understand the crisis: Greece, Germany, Brussels, Washington, Frankfurt, Paris, and financial markets. We had a lot to do to get up to speed.” There few resident foreign correspondents in Athens. Instead, reporters flew in for a few days at a time. They made up for their lack of expertise by relying on local fixers.
“Before the crisis, serious reporting and editorials pointed out the dangers of Greece’s ballooning debt,” says Nikos Konstandaras. “These warnings echoed those from the Bank of Greece and the European Commission, but while the economy functioned and borrowing continued, few paid attention.”
As the Greek story escalated and the threat to the eurozone grew, more foreign reporters arrived. Soon the small pool of experienced fixers was exhausted.
Lack of knowledge about Greece and the dearth of full-time correspondents in the country at the earliest days of the crisis meant coverage was illinformed and often wrong.
“At the beginning of the crisis, journalists were not experienced in dealing with the Greek case and this allowed some exaggeration and over-generalisation,” says George Tzogopoulos, a journalist and academic who published The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press in 2014.
“From start to finish, good journalism requires intensive and continuous learning through reporting, reading and thinking,” says Marcus Walker, a senior European economic and political correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. “In Greece, this was particularly complicated because —for most journalists covering it—so much was new to us. The country, its history, culture, politics, economy, institutions, society and mentalities.”
Specific challenges Local and international media were tested by the complexity of the story, as they often are in Africa’s crises. Good reporting required detailed understanding of macro-economics and finance but also of political economy, and the wide range of Greek and international figures in the story. “The eurozone, with its arcane governance, financial markets, with their esoteric jargon,” says Walker. “The interaction between local and global factors.
This led to journalists getting a partial picture of developments. Many were relying on a small group of English-speaking experts rather than a broader range of sources.
While getting up to speed, reporters searched for ways to make the story easier to understand. That was difficult, given much of its was extremely technical. Terms such as bailouts, bond yields, fiscal targets, austerity measures and structural reforms abounded.
Changing narratives Foreign reporters, often encouraged by their sources in Brussels, decided that by 2009 and 2010, the story was mostly about Greece’s shortcomings— clientelism, corruption, tax evasion, bureaucracy, political dishonesty, statistical fraud and a flawed economic model. As the bailout got under way in 2010, the key question that reporters wanted answered was whether the Greek government could implement
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the measures in the face of street protests and plunging voter support. In 2011, as the programme went off track, a debate emerged about whether the bailout assumptions were too optimistic and if Greek debt was sustainable. This tied in with a broader Keynesian critique of eurozone austerity. Particularly in the English-language media, Greece was an exemplar of how austerity hurts growth and employment instead of fixing public finances. German media discourse, though, focused more on Greece’s implementation failure. By this stage, Greece’s crisis had become for many reporters a proxy for battles in their own countries. The Greek case coincided with debates about fiscal and monetary policy (Keynes vs Hayek), bailouts, banks, debt relief, moral hazard, capitalism and democracy in many European countries as well as in the US. Greece was a cautionary tale both for those wanting to highlight the effects of fiscal profligacy as well as those who believed it would expose the negative impact of austerity policies. Economic hardship in Greece prompted more attention in 2011. Reporters wrote bleak features about unemployment, depression, homelessness, prostitution, suicides, emigration of the young and other effects the crisis was having on Greek society. The top political stories then were the collapse in support for the two dominant parties, New Democracy and PASOK, particularly the latter. Also, there was a sudden focus on neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which entered Parliament after the June 2012 elections. And the radical left party SYRIZA drew attention because some believed it might try to get Greece out of the Eurozone. By 2012, the resonance of the Greek story had spread. It became part of a wider continental crisis as more members of the euro-zone required bailouts.
German reporters regularly warned of euro failure and breakup, largely blaming Southern European states. Most reports in the German media failed to examine broader causes of the eurozone crisis, such as capital flows from the core to the periphery. Neither did many of them acknowledge the widespread view outside Germany and Brussels that harsh austerity measures in Greece had compounded its crisis rather than strengthened its economic fundamentals. In turn, the southern European media attacked Germany’s dominance of the eurozone as selfinterested. In the English-language media, analysts saw the crisis as proving their view that there could be no monetary union without a political union. “British and American media were more open in producing Grexit and disorderly default views,” says Tzogopoulos. “The landscape in Germany was divided until Alexis Tsipras came to power [in 2015]. Some media, such as Bild, Spiegel and Focus were keen on producing views about Grexit but others were more sceptical.” After European Central Bank president Mario Draghi claimed in July 2012 that the euro would be saved “whatever it takes”, and with the zone’s biggest economies making reassuring noises, the pressure relented. This coincided with the election of a New Democracy-led coalition in Greece, focused on staying in the eurozone. Greece moved down the news agenda in 2013 and it took the growing popularity of the leftist SYRIZA the following year to reawaken interest. Much of that was due to the Alexis Tsipras, SYRIZA’s young leader, who went on to win snap elections in January 2015. When SYRIZA came to power promising to tear up Greece’s bailout agreement with its creditors, international reporters differed sharply. Some condemned SYRIZA as irresponsible and incompetent, making populist promises about
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spending and debt relief it was unable to honour. However, critics of austerity saw in the SYRIZA government and its flamboyant finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, as the spark for a revolt against German-imposed policies in Europe. Commissioned by Germany’s Hans Böckler Foundation, researchers at the University of Würzburg studied coverage during the first five months of SYRIZA’s reign in five daily newspapers, finding heavy bias and superficiality. In a quarter of the sample, writers expressed their personal views. Some 45% of the stories condemned the Greek government; just 16% of the reports were deemed positive. Once SYRIZA’s fraught negotiations with Greece’s creditors culminated in a third bailout agreement in July 2015 and Varoufakis quit the government, interest faded again. There were no more heated debates about political economy. Attention soon turned to the deepening refugee crisis, leaving the story about debt, reforms and austerity to specialist financial media.
Domestic rift Within Greece, journalists were divided sharply and mostly held their positions. One camp favoured the reforms in the adjustment programmes; the other opposed the austerity measures and everything they entailed. This cleavage, known as the pro- and anti-memorandum (from Greece’s memorandum of understanding, or MoU, with its lenders) gradually became more pronounced and poisonous. “From early on, those opposed to the bailout conditions dominated airwaves and headlines,” says Konstandaras. “As the crisis dragged on, and with SYRIZA first appearing eligible to gain power, we saw a pro-EU narrative evolve among the media, politicians and citizens who were strongly in favour of Greece making any compromises necessary to remain in the EU, whereas the anti-bailout people portrayed the former group as sellouts and
themselves as patriots.” In this toxic atmosphere, some journalists and commentators, seized a chance to become celebrities with stints on talk shows or by writing acerbic columns. “Greek media and politicians drew on a very deep well of populism, conspiracy theories and opportunism. Many media personalities and owners of television channels, radio stations, newspapers and websites saw a golden opportunity in raising patriotic cries against alleged carpetbaggers,” says Konstandaras. The second-largest party at the time, the conservative New Democracy, initially opposed the first bailout signed in May 2010 and fringe parties were able to attract frustrated voters. “All of this was reflected in the way news media covered the crisis: there was no consensus, interpretations and standpoints were based on prejudice rather than analysis,” says Konstandaras. Although local media had the on-the-ground knowledge that the international journalists lacked, they faced heavy economic pressures as the crisis hit business, with state advertising drying up, and ad revenues from businesses falling by over half and newspaper sales plummeting. Publications such as the left-wing flagship Eleftherotypia closed and journalists in a range of newspapers were made redundant. Increasingly, Greeks turned to the internet and social media for information. According to a June 2017 Eurobarometer survey, 87% of Greeks think that their media are influenced by political or commercial pressure. That compares with an average of 57% taking a similar view in an survey across Europe. A study published by Reuters a month later found that only 23% of Greeks trusted the news available to them, which was the lowest of the 36 countries surveyed. Greeks also emerged one of the few
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audiences who trust social media for their news more than the traditional media. “The greatest challenge for the Greek news media has been their own decline—their loss of revenues, their loss of relevance as other forms of communication broke their monopoly,” says Konstandaras. “For media owners, the struggle to survive has seen the fall of firewalls between editorial and advertising departments, even where this did apply.”
Conclusions The onset of the Greek crisis in 2009 found the local and international media badly prepared to cover a story of such complexity and magnitude. The few sceptical voices in the local media had been drowned out during the previous era of prosperity, while foreign reporters lacked much of the detailed knowledge to understand developments in Greece. This was compounded by the fact that Greece’s threat to eurozone stability meant the story developed in numerous places around the world and involved many layers of institutional complexity. In the subsequent years, events, debates about wider issues, national biases and the use of Greece as an example to suit particular beliefs or agendas dictated the international coverage of its crisis. Domestically, there was a much clearer division in the way the media reported on the story. The dominant narratives generated over the last few years all contained elements of truth but none of them on their own could sufficiently explain developments.
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Reporting on Migration Daniel Howden
While migration routes connect sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and Europe there is little or no shared understanding between these regions as to what migration means. There is no single story of migration or consensus even on language, with terms such as “migrant”, “refugee” and “asylum seeker” used in ways unmoored from their actual meaning. Media coverage of migration in all three regions reflects this confusion. Just as there are three distinct regions, there are three main migration experiences: inward and transitory migration, and countries of origin. In Europe, migration narratives predominantly centre on the experience of destination countries. In much of sub-Saharan Africa—with South Africa the dominant exception—the narratives are those of the country of origin and return. This can and does tip into anxiety over inward migration when—as with the creation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—freedom of movement comes to be perceived as a threat to the status quo.
Africa and elsewhere, where development targets, democracy and human rights, and even security in fragile areas, are being sidelined in the search for quick fixes to stem arrivals or step up migrant returns.” At the nexus of all these migration concerns is Libya. Once viewed primarily through the prism of the terrorist threat posed by its unpredictable leader, foreign coverage of Libya had already begun a gradual shift to the country’s role as the departure point for 95 percent of refugees and migrants on the central Mediterranean route. This shift accelerated dramatically once the flow of people into Europe across the Eastern Aegean was reduced dramatically by the EU-Turkey deal in March 2016—where aid and political concessions were traded for Ankara’s assistance in stemming crossings.
In the Maghreb, all three categories of migration coexist simultaneously: outward migration from the Maghreb, bound largely for Europe; inward migration into the Maghreb, primarily from subSaharan Africa but also among countries in the region; and transit migration through the Maghreb, chiefly to Europe.
Since the international community evacuated Libya in 2014 due to the deteriorating security situation, most foreign coverage of the country is directed from neighbouring Tunisia. News agencies like Reuters and broadcasters such as the BBC no longer have international staff based in Tripoli, relying instead on short trips and local staff, whose own reporting and movements are heavily restricted. The distance created by the dangers of on-the-ground reporting has come at the same time as increased interest.
The European Union (EU)’s relationship with North Africa, once almost entirely dominated by a security discourse, has undergone a major shift towards a migration obsession that has pulled media coverage along in its wake.
Aidan Lewis, Reuters’ bureau chief for Tunisia and Libya has observed the shift in priorities: “Migration is one of the three or four major subjects in Libya that we cover, along with security, oil production and politics.”
“The EU’s single-minded pursuit of a reduction in the number of migrants reaching the continent has encroached on a range of policy areas, from foreign affairs to development aid, trade and defence,” said Giulia Lagana, EU migration and asylum analyst at the Open Society European Policy Institute. “This has had an impact on relations with countries in
“This year (2017) we’ve been writing as much if not more on migration compared with those other issues, especially if you include coverage by our Rome bureau and to a lesser extent coverage of United Nations (UN) agencies in Geneva. Libya is covered by the same team as the Maghreb, and it’s easily the busiest news story of the four countries.”
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Libya’s own convoluted political struggle and internal conflict has been relegated to background colour in most international reports, which are driven by Libya’s role as a gateway to Europe. Othman Belbeisi, the long-serving head of the Libya office at the International Migration Organization (IMO) sees a strong divergence between Libyan attitudes to migration and outside engagement: “Migration isn’t even in the top 10 concerns of most Libyans,” he said. Belbeisi, like the rest of the international community, is now based in Tunis and visits Libya only when security conditions allow. Rana Jawad, the BBC’s North Africa correspondent says the same limits apply to journalists covering Libya. Jawad says that while it may seem outside interest has diminished it is mainly a question of access: “This reality at times comes across as though interest is gone—it hasn’t. We still follow and cover closely on a near weekly basis, and have teams that occasionally go there, and when they do, the coverage will almost always include migration.” Mary Fitzgerald, formerly a reporter with the Irish Times and now a full-time Libya analyst, has seen this intensification of interest in Libya combine with a simplification of the story: I am no longer reporting on Libya as a journalist but as a researcher who observes media coverage of Libya. I think the Libya story as covered by international media has mostly been reduced to two poles: migration (particularly when it comes to European media coverage) and the threat from Islamic State.
In international newsrooms, Libya must compete for attention with other crises in the broader region, from Syria, Iraq and Egypt to the Gulf Crisis. “In-depth reporting of the deeper political dynamics in Libya that feed or exacerbate those challenges is rare,” said Fitzgerald. “The difficulties
- logistical and security-related—of reporting from Libya are of course a factor but there is also a lack of interest from media outlets already struggling to cover what some editors consider more important regional stories.” The lack of deeper reporting has hindered public understanding in Europe of the effects of shorttermist EU policies on stability in Libya or conditions for migrants in the country. It has become common even in news agency reports to see a figure of 700,000 migrants in Libya being quoted without context, leaving European readers to assume that they are all waiting to cross the Mediterranean. Libya’s pre-revolution economy was dependent on migrant labour and the three largest migrant groups in the country are from Niger, Chad and Egypt—nationalities which do not show up significantly in the groups arriving in Italy. Local media offers little or no counterweight to shallow international perspectives, says Jalel Harchaoui, a doctoral candidate in geopolitics at Paris 8 University and a frequent commentator on Libyan affairs. Since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has undergone a warp-speed version of the adjustment being made in many African media markets. Its starting point—an exclusively statecontrolled apparatus—was more repressive than in much of the continent, and has been replaced by partisan outlets primarily aimed at distributing propaganda. The lack of progress since the 2011 revolution sees Libya ranked 164th out of the 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. “Although Libya’s ineffective state structure means the domestic media can finally operate free from authoritarian regulations and government intervention, the media environment remains highly dangerous and repressive,” said a paper by the Dutch-backed organization, Fanack, an independent online platform on the Maghreb and Middle East.
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Harchaoui sees no serious locally based coverage on migration:
“A minority, on the left, typically educated youth, is in favour of granting humane treatment to migrants. And a majority of the public nurtures a resentment and hostility towards subSaharans.” In a pattern which apes the worst aspects of European coverage, Harchaoui sees politicians responding to these prejudices inherent in local media through “demagoguery and populism” as a means to deflect attention from local economic crises. “Transit through Maghreb isn’t talked about in the press usually,” said Harchaoui. “It’s just something you see first-hand, and also read about from a European perspective.” Libya, while exceptional in the dangers it poses to journalists, is not alone in North or sub-Saharan Africa in the way it treats migration stories. Gambia, prior to the departure of long-time leader Yahya Jammeh, was typical in the way in which it covered migration. Practically every family in the small and impoverished West African country has direct experience of migration. But migration as a topic has been largely absent in state or private media where the exodus of young Gambians was seen as a potential embarrassment to the government, and journalists practised selfcensorship. The migration trail, rarely reported on in Gambia, is known euphemistically as the “Backway”. The state-owned Daily Observer newspaper has published stories about young Gambians who had tried and failed to reach Europe via the Backway before returning home to take up farming and realize the error of their ways. While serious examination of the causes of outward migration or the economic reliance on resulting remittances was invisible in the Gambian media, former president Jammeh did use the topic to grandstand. In early
2015 he sought to pose as a Muslim leader by offering asylum to all persecuted Rohingya in Myanmar. When the Media Diversity Institute, a UK nonprofit, assessed migration coverage in Algeria, they found hate speech and discriminatory language were the norm. There was little informed use of the terms “refugee” or “migrant” while stories often referred to Africans rather than specifying countries and terms like “invaders,” “criminals” and “people carrying diseases” were often deployed. The disconnect and flaws apparent in local and international migration coverage were underlined by a November 2017 CNN report from Libya and the response it provoked. CNN had received unverified footage purported to show slave auctions taking place in Libya. The US broadcaster sent a team to try and verify the contents of the footage and eventually aired a piece which appeared— without being able to match the original footage— to support the existence of some form of slave auctions. Unverified reports of slavery-like conditions had existed for years and a controversial press release by the IOM in April 2017 had used similar language to the CNN report—something that was disputed within the organization, where critics said the release sensationalized the situation. “Obviously the recent CNN story generated global interest in what’s going on inside Libya on a very different level,” said Lewis. “Despite the fact that – as noted elsewhere – stories of migrants being used for forced labour and even reports of “slave markets” had been widely reported before.” Fitzgerald also acknowledged the impact of the CNN footage: “The fact that report went viral and prompted social media protests by celebrities including footballers and rappers brought unprecedented attention to the wider migration story in Libya.”
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The impact of the CNN report far outweighed coverage of alleged bribes offered by Italian authorities to Libyan smuggling gangs to reduce crossings during the pre-election period in Italy. Italian daily newspaper Corriere Della Sera ran detailed reportage on the allegations, which were followed up in Italian media; and the New York Times ran an editorial on “Europe’s Dirty Deals,” but the coverage was not sustained. The lack of a compelling media link between appalling conditions for migrants and Europe’s own policy choices allowed European leaders to respond the CNN story by doubling down on the same migration containment approaches that existed previously. An “evacuation” of Libya’s migrant detention complex was announced quoting numbers of prisons and migrants that had little basis in reality. “Some journalists have done laudable work over the last year or so unpicking the gap between European rhetoric and the reality on the ground in Libya when it comes to tackling migration flows,” said Fitzgerald. “The level of interest in the migration story is now the highest it has been over the past three years, due mostly to the firestorm created by the recent CNN report.” In Libya itself, the CNN report drew a mixture of denial and anger. A social media campaign with hashtags opposing slavery was shared by some Libyans but the official response was to sack the head of the media office at the Government of National Accord, Khaled Farhat. African leaders, including the presidents of Guinea and Nigeria, enabled by the shallow awareness created by the absence of migration coverage at home, were able to pretend outrage. The same leaders have been under pressure for years to sign return deals that would allow the EU to pay the IOM to fly home migrants—often from West Africa—who have failed to slip through Libya and onto boats bound for Europe.
Most observers agree that the migration focus has displaced other important stories but Harchaoui finds that the preponderance of simplistic migration narratives also obscures new trends in the movement of people. Chief among them, he believes, is the departure of indigenous youth from the Maghreb countries. A recent feature of arrivals in Italy has been the presence of Tunisians and Libyans, when irregular migration was previously seen as taboo to many in their societies. “The penny hasn’t dropped and the public at large (in the Maghreb) is far from realizing that this is changing,” said Harchaoui. “Something new is happening. The absolute magnitude of the numbers is not bad yet. However, the velocity with which the numbers have been exploding to the upside is downright worrisome. Coverage of this remains poor, as few political scientists and reporters alike have been writing on it.”
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Conclusions Kenya and Uganda For close to a decade, John Allan Namu had been Kenya’s leading broadcast investigative journalist. In partnership with his colleague, Mohamed Ali, the duo had pioneered bi-lingual TV investigations, the former working in English, the latter in Kiswahili. Shifting from the Nation Media Group’s NTV channel to The Standard Group’s KTN, Namu and Ali became synonymous with bold exposés which smuggled in Nollywood-esque special effects: over-the-top theme music, using narrators who rivalled the most frantic Latin American football commentators, and a script fashioned with the restraint of a Jackie Chan blockbuster. The package, unerringly pitched to the tastes of a mass audience, may have been sensationalized, but the reportage was solid. Heavily advertised in advance for prime-time television, the Namu-Ali investigations became major media events at a time when investigative reporting, especially on TV, had become something of a rarity. On more than one occasion, the two were forced out of the country, pursued by the political establishment either for stories they were suspected to be investigating, or for stories they had broadcast. On several other occasions, their editors were forced to drop the story at the last minute after State House got wind of it and made some calls to the station’s executives. Indeed, the only reason the investigations aired was because of their consistently high ratings. In the age of corporate media, TV executives found themselves held hostage by the imperative of the bottom line, unable to excise the offence of dissident journalism from its corporate body. And then, in December 2015, John Allan quit his job at KTN. As he would explain later: The emboldened corporate wing of legacy media houses has overshadowed its editorial judgement, such that well-meaning journalists are now overly
cautious about the stories they select. Editors have to select which facts to leave out - or how to blunt incisive content. Editorial board committees very openly state their discomfort with stories that paint their biggest advertisers in an unflattering light.
Along with his partners, Namu opened Africa Uncensored, a boutique production house dedicated to investigations. With seed money from Western donors and foundations, Namu has concentrated his considerable talents and experience on the unquenchable landscape of unreported stories in the region. Broadcast through Africa Uncensored’s YouTube Channel (with teasers and promotions delivered via Twitter and Facebook), Namu boasts a following of 684,000, almost half the number of those on his former station, KTN —and without the Standard Group’s formidable marketing budget. Flexible, lean and collaborative, Africa Uncensored has produced stories for both international and local audiences. Namu retained his links with KTN, which has allowed him a regular platform for stories angled at a domestic Kenyan audience. At the same time, he has collaborated with international broadcasters, notably Al Jazeera, to produce hard-hitting Kenya- and East Africafocused investigations that would never have been aired, for obvious reasons, by local broadcasters. Africa Uncensored suggests a new model, not just for independent investigative journalists, but even perhaps for traditional media, beset as they are by falling audiences, limited advertising and reenergized authoritarians. While it is hoped that journalists within the mainstream media committed to truth-telling will take Charles Onyango-Obbo’s challenge and become the vanguard of a new, independent public-interest media, the inherent financial risks of such ventures are likely to limit this development.
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For the time being, principled and committed civil society activists and public-spirited journalists are using whatever resources at their disposal to fill the vacuum left by a captured mainstream media. In 2017, anti-corruption activist John Githongo created an online platform, TheElephant.info, to begin challenging establishment media and the conventional wisdoms of mainstream media. While the project is still in its infancy, the regional talents Githongo has assembled, on a shoe-string budget, suggest that the appetite for independent journalism is still alive and well. Initially Githongo’s outfit depended entirely on donor funding. More recently, he says, he is beginning to see interest from advertisers and is contemplating adopting a crowdfunding model. Elsewhere in the region, the revival of the small, independent media—mostly online magazines rather than multimedia or broadcast platforms— is reminiscent of the colonial era when a nascent African ethnic media emerged to give voice to popular anti-colonial demands. In Uganda, for instance, where native resistance against colonial hegemony was most articulate, and where an educated, propertied African class had emerged earliest in the region, newspapers such as Ebifa mu Buganda (established in 1907); Senkanyolya ((1920) and Gambuze (1927) gave way to the more strident English-language native-owned newspapers of the 1950s such as Uganda Post and Uganda Express. The historical comparisons are not far-fetched. Independent anti-colonial native media of the 1950s were themselves ‘crowd-funded’ using a communal model in which ordinary citizens and the propertied elite joined forces to challenge colonial hegemony. Today, similarly, online papers such as Chim Reports have recently emerged to fill the vacuum left by a mainstream media which, through state coercion and crony arrangements
between independent local media owners and elements of the regime, have forced the media into abandoning its public interest mandate. “This is a transitional period for mainstream media. Government’s Co-optation is not our death knell. After all, the new relationship with the state is reminiscent of the 1960s, when the nationalist media was very much in bed with the new governments in the region. What we have to live with are the new realities. The mainstream media will have to adjust to live off the thin profits from sales rather than depend on corporate advertising,” observes a Kampala-based senior media manager. “More importantly journalists need to change because journalism is changing.” The threats to the news business are numerous and varied. Social media, while accessible and popular carries an inherent threat of fake news. It is a profoundly unstable model but, one hopes, will progressively be re-ordered by the forces of the social market. Returning to Obbo, the revival of independent journalism will require the courage of a generation of mavericks willing to disrupt the status quo. That raises questions about the role of the profit-driven private media corporation. Over the past year, media houses large and small in Kenya have been tested by the political and commercial ructions surrounding the disputed national elections in August and October 2017. Unlike in 2013, when the imperative for avoiding a repeat of the violence in the previous election, there was far less restraint among politicians and activists as well as less self-censorship among journalists. The murder of Christopher Msando, a top electoral official specializing in information technology, a week before the elections aroused fresh suspicions of skulduggery. The failure of a police investigation to make headway in the case fuelled partisan speculation on both sides of the divide.
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As the electoral process became more and more contested with the main opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) rejecting the results announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, social media and the traditional media were drawn into the battle. Initially, Nasa was outflanked by the Jubilee government. Election observation teams from the African Union, the European Union and the US’s National Democratic Institute gave little credence to its complaints, pointing out the dangers that over-heated rhetoric could fire up a return to widespread political violence.
critique of Odinga’s position as ill-considered. Yet the national political contest became still more fraught with Nasa and Jubilee doubling down on their previous positions, this time courting the media much more intensively.
Their position was echoed by both the international and the local media. The New York Times singled out Nasa leader Raila Odinga for special opprobrium, arguing that he would bear a particular responsibility should clashes break out between his supporters and their rivals in the Jubilee party.
To what effect is harder to calculate. The second round of the elections went ahead. Jubilee won with a landslide but on a voter turn out of less then 40%; Nasa boycotted and contested the legitimacy of the election. After Jubilee’s candidate Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in for a second term, Nasa organized its own parallel inauguration on 30 January. Defying the Jubilee government’s calls not to broadcast the inauguration, the NTV, KTN and Citizen TV networks had their transmitters shut down by state security agencies.
Nasa, however, persisted with its rejection of the results, submitting a petition to the Supreme Court. Everything seemed to change when in September, the Court annulled the previous month’s elections. For many outsiders, it showed a brave stand by the judges for independence. The Court’s ruling was held up as a sign of a new assertiveness by judiciaries across Africa, evidenced by the tough anti-corruption stance of judges in South Africa and the willingness of judges in Nigeria to overturn the results of state governorship elections. It may have also encouraged the Supreme Court in Liberia to uphold a complaint about the first round of voting in the Presidential election there in October; it ordered the electoral commission to delay the next round of voting until it had improved procedures and accountability. In Kenya, the international observer groups qualified their initial reactions. Unusually, the New York Times published a mea culpa, with its earlier
After some deliberation, Nasa said it would not participate in a second round of voting unless the electoral commission implemented a set of agreed reforms; instead it would organize a national boycott of the elections to undermine Jubilee’s legitimacy. Both groups despatched media teams to Europe and the United States to influence officials, journalists and think tanks.
This latest round of confrontation between the government and privately-owned media groups is one of the most serious such episodes since the return to multi-party politics in Kenya in the 1990s. It comes as journalists and media companies are already trying to navigate unprecedented technological change and commercial pressures. The immediate signs are that the national media companies are in a weak position to resist state pressure. At the same, the more concessions they make to the authorities the more likely they are to lose larges swathes of their younger and more urbanized audiences. That could translate, in turn, into commercial losses and advertisers lose interest in established television networks and newspapers,
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finding other ways to get their messages across. It may be that the national political stand-off will simply reinforce the crisis that Kenya’s media was likely to face in 2018. That is small comfort to a profession that is facing growing job insecurity and falling earnings; media companies are responding to the crisis by exploring other revenue streams in less contested fields such as sports and entertainment. Kenya’s record for technological innovation, launching the mobile money platform Mpesa and its cohort of internet activists together with substantial reserves of local venture capital could mean the development of a new generation of media companies at the end of the current crisis. But there are no signs of an early recovery for the local media industry.
Ghana: surprises in the media, surprises in politics There are some important parallels between political and media developments in Ghana and Kenya. Both countries have been running multi-party elections with varying degrees of credibility for over two decades, which have included incumbent parties losing national elections. Although political violence in Kenya has hit the headlines, most notably around the crisis of the 2007 elections, political analysts in Ghana such as Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi at the Centre for Democratic Development have warned of risks of politically-charges clashes in the event of blatantly fraudulent elections. The other important parallel between Kenya and Ghana is the key role of journalists and civic activists in the political process—as commentators and sometimes, as arbiters. In Ghana, this has been particularly important over the past decade. In the 2008 elections, the incumbent New Patriotic Party lost the presidential elections to the opposition National Democratic Congress after two rounds of voting and rising tension in the most strongly contested areas.
The new President, John Evans Atta-Mills proved to be more popular than his party, far less adversarial than many of his colleagues. His health started to deteriorate shortly after he came to power, undermining his government before his death in July 2012. However, his party the NDC benefitted from a wave of public sympathy for Mills and his family. Mills’s Vice President John Mahama, a former minister of communications and a seasoned media performer, took over in a seamless transition and pledged to implement all the cherished policies of his popular predecessor. This twist of events put the opposite NPP in a difficult position. Cultural traditions and the particular respect accorded to the deceased, especially for the first year after a death, meant the NPP could not be seen to attack Mills or his legacy (of which Mahama appointed himself custodian). Instead, the NPP decided to fight a more positive campaign, concentrating on its pledges to bring in free universal secondary education and several state-led campaigns to cut youth unemployment. Its presidential candidate lost by less than 50,000 votes to the NDC’s Mahama in elections just five months after Mill’s death. Immediately crying foul, the NPP rejected the results and filed a petition with the Supreme Court. What happened next tested the fabric of Ghanaian society, particular institutions such as the judiciary, the security services and the media. The NPP’s petition and legal arguments were broadcast live, as were the responses of the top NDC officials who were joined in the petition and the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Kwadwo Afari-Gyan. For just under eight months the case continued, drawing in a mass audience on state and private television and radio stations. It was accompanied by uninhibited and partisan commentary in the press and on radio talk shows. It must rank as one of the
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most comprehensive public autopsies on a national election, anywhere in the world.
traditional NDC supporters failed to turn out while the NPP won new support, hopeful of change.
The downside was that the lengthy examination by the social bench at the Supreme Court had almost frozen the government for over half a year, making it difficult for Mahama to launch his own programmes. The upside was that it was a vital and open exercise in interrogating the mechanics of an election, the methods of the political competitors and the state bureaucracy.
The NPP’s victory was achieved through a combination of savvy tactics, clever policy ideas, good candidates and, most of all, a vastly improved organization. It started its fightback after its defeat in the 2012 elections. Its campaign to challenge the 2012 elections gave the NPP’s top officials forensic knowledge of voting patterns across the country’s contested constituencies. That showed the value of opening up the electoral process to maximum accountability. That means bringing in the media, civic activists as well as the rival political contenders.
Of course, the final verdict was always going to offend one of the rival sides. But the social effects were determined by the parties’ reactions. In August 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that while it found several serious faults with the management of the elections, the NPP had not proved beyond all reasonable doubt that these had affected the outcome. The ruling added a list of reforms that the Electoral Commission should implement to improve its credibility. It was Akufu Addo’s statement that while he disagreed with the judges’ ruling, he and his party would respect the Court as an institution. They, in league with civil society organizations, also resolved to push for comprehensive reforms of the commission. Partly due to this prodding from civil society, journalists and opposition parties, at almost every stage, the Commission improved on previous elections: getting messages out to the electors; operating the biometric voter registration machines; delivering election materials punctually; ensuring voting secrecy and ballot auditing; transmitting results manually and electronically. Opinion polls swung back and forth. None came close to predicting what was almost a landslide win by Akufo-Addo, over 900,000 votes ahead of Mahama, while the NPP won a more than 75 seat majority in Parliament over the NDC. With an average turnout of 69% across the country, many
The NPP’s campaign director Peter Mac Manu, Akufo-Addo and his cousin, Ken Ofori-Atta, had recruited Joe Anokye, a Ghanaian information technology expert who had worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States for the past two decades. His brief was to set up a parallel reporting system to the Electoral Commission, allowing the party to check the accuracy of all published results against information on the ground. Anokye started with the recruitment of at least two party agents for each of the 29,000 polling stations. The stipulation was that they should be literate and numerate, fluent in English and at least one Ghanaian language. The party used crowd-funding techniques pioneered by the Obama presidential campaign in the USA in 2008. From their base, the agents reported the results from each polling station, which the Electoral Commission had to make public, to two data experts working for the party in each of the 275 constituencies. One NPP data expert worked in the party’s own constituency collation centre and one in the Electoral Commission’s own collation centre in each constituency. From each constituency, the data experts sent through the results on a secure line to the party’s
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‘war room’ in central Accra. About eight hours after the close of polling on 7 December, Anokye said that his team had checked and verified 80% of the results in the presidential election. At this point, the role of the independent media, particularly the local FM stations, became critical. Although the state media reserved judgement on the election outcome, the independent stations wanted to test the NPP’s claims against the Electoral Commission’s results. After the Commission said it was going to suspend releasing results while it resolved some glitches in the system, popular pressure was mounting. It was then that the NPP invited journalists from a range of broadcasters and publishers to examine the results it had produced from its parallel tabulation system. After many hours of scrutiny and consultations with the independent monitoring groups, some of the leading FM stations such as Joy FM decided to call the election. As a matter of courtesy, the chairman of the company and the editor in chief called incumbent President John Mahama to inform him of their conclusion. Within a day, the Electoral Commission announced that Akufo Addo had won, and that Mahama had called to congratulate him. It was an important moment for the development of Ghana’s political system and its civil society, but it was one that owes much too several building blocks: the campaign to reform the electoral commission, and the close collaboration between journalists pressing for maximum accountability and civic activists. The lessons learned will have a demonstration effect across many other developing democracies. Yet Ghana’s media landscape faces many of the obstacles noted in Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Certainly, its print media is notably less diverse than in those three countries. A survey by Reporters Without Borders found that almost 75% of
readers relied on a state-run newspaper for their information ore entertainment. That would include the flagship Daily Graphic and The Ghanaian Times, and their local sister papers. All are funded directly by the Ministry of Information and back, sometimes with some subtlety, the government of the day. Most of the private papers are owned by supporters of the NPP, which gives the party a considerable media advantage when it’s in power and exerts influence on the state news papers and broadcasters. For the electronic media, the split is the other way around: over half of the Ghanaian audience favours the independent and the privately-owned media. On the plus side, private radio and television stations make a real effort to represent all sides of the political spectrum in the studio debates and in their reporting. The downside is that there is a high concentration of ownership. The top four companies—Multimedia Group, U2 company, TV3 network and the state-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation—take over 75% of the audience share. Also of concern, the RWF survey found serious inconsistencies with data submitted to the Registrar General’s Department and that held by the regulatory authority, the National Communications Authority. Other points of concern were the roles of senior politicians such as Freddie Bay, Kwabena Duffuor and Kennedy Agyapong and the paucity of women—just three out of 21 chief executives—in top managerial roles.
South Africa—The media as agent of change It was, for many South African journalists, a ‘Watergate moment’. The release of 200,000 emails from companies owned by or linked to the politically-connected Gupta family to two groups of investigative journalists proved to be an editorial and then political game-changer.
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Until then, as one Johannesburg-based reporter described it, journalists were “…wearing blindfolds as they tried to work out the size of the elephant”. The leaked emails were a treasure trove for journalists at the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and its collaborators at the Daily Maverick, an online newspaper which has attracted some of South Africa’s top journalists, intellectuals and creative writers as well as running several original investigative features. It was amaBhungane that broke the initial story about the use of state funds for President Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla, kwaZuluNatal. The group was also one of the small group of journalists to report that the Gupta family, known to have close business links with President Zuma’s family, had secured privileged access to land private jets at the Waterkloof Air Force Base carrying guests due to attend a family wedding in the luxury Sun City complex north of Johannesburg. Although Zuma denied any involvement with the arrangements, a mid-level official in the presidency took the blame, it emerged that several senior figures in the government and members of Zuma’s family attended the lavish and extended nuptials, said to have costs tens of millions of dollars. Journalists in South Africa were duly alerted to the Gupta family’s immense political influence in the country and saw the first signs of a sprawling politically charged business network. Over the next few years, reports of Gupta-owned or linked companies winning multi-million dollar nobid public procurement contracts to supply coal to the state-owned power company, Eskom, and a host of operations in the natural resource sector. This was possible, said insiders, because President Zuma was backing the family and clearing a path for them. They were also business partners with Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
Newspaper reports in the Gupta family’s businesses trickled out, then became a deluge after Zuma sacked the respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015, replacing him with a political neophyte, Des van Rooyen, said to be a close associate of the Gupta family. Zuma’s move triggered a run on the Rand and he backed down four days later. A team of top ANC and business figures forced him to appoint Pravin Gordhan, who like Nene was a stickler for due process. Then Nene’s deputy Mbecisi Jonas let it be known that the Gupta family had offered him several million dollars to agree to be finance minister, suggesting that they were acting on behalf of President Zuma. Jonas repeated this account, vehemently denied by the Guptas, to the Public Protector or anti-corruption czarina, Thuli Madonsela. All the leading banks closed their accounts with the Gupta family’s businesses in April 2016. Then shortly before her tenure expired, Madonsela published her report into the phenomenon known as state capture—in which the Gupta family were deemed to be the key players —in November 2016, calling for a commission of inquiry to be led by a judge. Zuma’s office did its best to stonewall this request until January 2018 the national executive committee of the African National Congress mandated him to set up the inquiry. What had made the difference in the meantime was the concerted effort by journalists and civic activists to investigate the corrupt networks around President Zuma, his family and some senior officials in the government and party. A huge part of that effort goes back to the leak of the 200,000 Gupta company emails in early 2017. It was the inside knowledge and analytical skills of journalists from amaBhungane and the Daily Maverick which trawled the emails for the details that would allow them to build a wider picture
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of the Guptas’ corporate empire, their links with government officials and the Presidential family but also with multinational companies and their local affiliates in South Africa. With despatch, the journalists pinpointed the involvement of top international companies such as the USA’s McKinsey consulting, Britain’s KPMG and HSBC bank, and Germany’s SAP, all of which eventually issued qualified and legalistic apologias. All three companies face a combination of reputational damage through media reports but also legal challenges brought by trades unions and civil society groups. That same alignment of forces has been pushing for restructuring and new personnel at the state power utility Eskom. As momentum built up around the state capture issue and relations between President Zuma and the Gupta family, opinion shifted within the ruling ANC prior to its leadership elections in December 2017. Initially, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife, was the favourite to win the party leadership and then become its flagbearer in the 2019 elections. In the event, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa won the party leadership by a margin of less than 200 of the 5000 delegates to the conference. The story still has some way to play out. At the centre of the coming political and institutional battles will be the issues of accountability, state capture and probity. Ramaphosa’s leadership will stand or fall on his ability to reform his party and the government. Those issues are all matters of public debate in which the investigative and interpretative reporting of amaBhungane and the Daily Maverick have already played a leading role in pointing out deep flaws in the system. Similarly, the veteran investigative journalist Jacques Pauw released his book, The President’s Keepers, a
finely detailed exposé of the grip of the ruling clique over supposedly neutral state institutions such as the security services, the national prosecution agency, the police, army, and state procurement agencies. Pauw’s book made history in another way: it was the subject of a banning order, the first such order since the end of apartheid. Yet both amaBhungane and the Daily Maverick are supported by donor funding, which also gave them some insulation from political and commercial pressures. AmaBhungane founder Stefaans Brumer says that while his organization appreciates the support of its funders, negotiating and sustaining that backing has become almost a full-time job for him. Most importantly, he says, it takes him away from the investigative journalism for which he set up amaBhungane. There the US/Watergate and SA/Gupta-Zumagate parallels break down. The Pentagon Papers and subsequent robbery at the Watergate stories were monumental journalistic episodes and assured the national reputation of the formerly ailing Washington Post. In comparison, the journalists at amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have won relatively little kudos from their painstaking investigative work. Yet, like the journalists on the Washington Post, they have exposed malfeasance at the highest level and could be part of a process that forces the South African president to resign. One reason for this, is that amaBhungane is better at reporting than marketing. The Daily Maverick, with its National Conversation events, has raised its profile and some revenue from such events but it’s yet to find a sustainable business model. Although amaBhungane from its roots as the investigative unit of the Mail & Guardian, the established weekly paper based in Johannesburg. The Mail & Guardian, a commercial venture which makes a small profit and includes media foundation
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shareholders, wanted to invest in an ambitious panAfrican project. Accordingly, it broke its exclusive deal with amaBhungane and lost the chance to style itself as the newspaper that brought down Jacob Zuma. That amaBhungane should find itself in a such a problematic commercial and marketing position despite its excellent journalistic record points to wider difficulties in the South African media. Mainstream commercial newspapers such as City Press, Business Day, the Sunday Times as well as the Afrikaans press such as Die Burger, have all followed the Zuma and Gupta trail but none of them did the pioneering reporting that brought the issues to centre stage. All the major newspapers in South Africa have come under mounting financial pressure, and owners have responded by selling assets and cutting staff. The legacy titles such as The Star and the Cape Times are regarded as in terminal decline. The most commercially titles are now tabloids such as The Sun, launched by Deon du Plessis, a veteran Afrikaans journalist. The biggest media companies, such as Naspers, have long since diversified into other areas such as entertainment and sport, and have started highly profitable operations in Asia. But the company has shown little interest in hard-hitting investigative reports given the breadth of its commercial and political interests currently. On the level of journalistic excellence, determination and courage, the reporters from amaBhugane and the Daily Maverick are enjoying their finest hour. But just as the political outcome of their investigations looks uncertain, so too is the future of their organizations.
Migration—transnational issues, parochial coverage The reality of migration is essentially transnational, while the media coverage and public understanding
of it is often parochial. It is not a coincidence that the imagery most often deployed in describing the phenomenon is threatening and liquid, as in “waves” and “floods”, just as the response is forbidding using terms such as “fortress” and “walls”. “Migration itself is a natural part of human existence; it is neither a crime nor a problem,” said Francois Crepeau, until recently the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants. “It has the potential to be a remedy for many social ills.” The Canadian law professor is right to speak of opportunities as well as challenges and this nowhere more true than in journalism. Migration is one of the bridges that connects Africa to Europe and the rest of the highly developed countries. The current state of migration journalism often exoticizes and reduces complex stories in African countries of transit and origin to simple tropes of the “other”. This can obscure opportunities but they do exist. Firstly, migration is not a short-term crisis in the way it was experienced in Europe in 2015. Shifting demographics with a younger and growing Africa and an older and slowly shrinking Europe ensure this. “Let’s recognize that migration is a mega-trend of our time,” said UN Migration Agency, William Lacy Swing. “We have to treat it with seriousness, not smears.” Swing was talking about policy-making but he could equally have been talking about journalism. Much of current journalism on migration in Europe and Africa is responsible for parochial attitudes to migration and has contributed to the policy climate in countries of origin, destination and transit that are locked into containment. In so much as it is possible to generalize across subSaharan Africa, outward migration is both an economic necessity for the remittances it offers and a political embarrassment for governments, whose economic failures it exposes. In this context a mix
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of direct and indirect censorship has largely limited serious coverage of the drivers of migration. In Europe, the overwhelming focus on inward migration from Africa has been on the Mediterranean crossings. Common media portrayals tend to veer between helpless Africa victims, rescued from the sea and a threatening alien wave arriving on the shores of Italy. Little or no space is given to the role of legal pathways or the reality that the sea crossings represent a small fraction of African migration into Europe—a number still dominated by people overstaying visas. Amid these interconnected failures, a strong opportunity exists for a migration journalism network that can connect existing journalists and newsrooms across sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb and Europe. Just as there is a clear genre of conflict journalism, there is an opportunity to encourage and cement the emergence of migration journalism. Thousands of journalists, relatively few of whom actually visit frontline situations, consume and aspire to create conflict journalism. Newsrooms afford status and resources to their war reporters and photographer/filmmakers that adds to the cachet. This status, along with the essentially highrisk nature of the work, has been burnished by a network of awards, fellowships and grants related to conflict coverage. This is also fed by existing informal networks like the “Vulture Club”, an online forum where conflict journalists seek and offer advice and tips on anything from finding a fixer in a war zone to trading second-hand protective gear or negotiating visa barriers to access hard-to-reach stories. There have been baby steps towards fostering a sense of identity among journalists who cover migration. The Guardian in 2015 appointed its first migration correspondent, Patrick Kingsley, who was subsequently poached by the New York Times. However, even the best-resourced newsrooms, such
as the Economist, leave migration to reporters whose main beat lies elsewhere: the weekly’s refugees special report in 2015 was authored by its Brusselsbased Charlemagne correspondent, Tom Nuttall. The transnational nature of migration journalism means it presents some of the same challenges as conflict journalism. Approaching what politicians of different stripes have taken to calling the “root causes” of migration calls for foreign reporting and risk-taking, as well the ability to access on-theground expertise in traditionally neglected countries like Niger and Chad. Over the last two years an increasing number of queries on forums like the Vulture Club have come from journalists tackling migration stories, often in places like Libya where the line between conflict and migration journalism is blurred.
Boosting African journalism The dominant model until now for supporting African journalism has been the workshop. Its popularity stems, in part, from the enduring vogue for “capacity building” among development donors who saw training as an alternative to budgetary support in areas where transparency issues had complicated past efforts. While it seems a natural fit—and workshops are a popular training approach outside Africa—many local journalists have become critical. Murithi Mutiga, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, is a veteran of dozens of training seminars and workshops both in Africa and outside the continent. Mutiga, who has worked in a number of senior roles with the Nation Media Group in Kenya, believes donors would be better off spending their money in different ways. “I’m not a great fan of the workshop model and I think collaborations or support that helps local journalists come up with stories that are relevant to their settings and potentially could have greater
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interest further afield would work better than the occasional workshop or training junket trip without adequate follow-up.” Simon Allison, the Africa editor at South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, says that “the model is bust”. He has been on both sides of the workshop approach as an attendee and a trainer and calls for a total rethink of donor support: The issue African journalists have, in my experience, is not a lack of training or experience. “There are plenty of excellent journalists working incredibly hard, under challenging circumstances, to do the best work they can. Two days of halfhearted workshops in a conference centre does not fix these challenges.” Allison says that the typical short format does not provide enough time to make a meaningful difference, and can end up coming across as “patronizing” to more experienced participants who find themselves being trained by less experienced non-Africans. Allison remembers asking a seasoned Sudanese journalist what he thought of a workshop he had been flown to Nairobi to attend. “The cake was nice,” the Sudanese journalist replied. “But I still don’t have petrol to put in my vehicles to go to the stories.” Mutiga, who has contributed to the Guardian and was a columnist for the International New York Times, suggests matchmaking African journalists with local and international colleagues outside of the workshop format: “I think finding ways to partner with journalists in the field, strengthen their story-writing capacities possibly through collaboration with more experienced hands from here and abroad and helping them pitch these would be helpful.” Mutiga gives the example of journalists in Garissa in northern Kenya who often have interesting ideas
on covering refugee issues in that area and some who could potentially file diaries on life there but struggle to find interest from editors in Nairobi. He also gives an example of the way in which matching local reporters to more experienced or betterresourced counterparts could also add nuance to established reporting tracks and narratives. “Local knowledge can help shine a light on some neglected stories. A very prominent route for migration is southwards from Ethiopia and Somalia to South Africa but this is rarely covered and there are many Ethiopians languishing in Kenyan jails after being caught attempting the journey,” says Mutiga. “Highlighting this could serve to demand a more enlightened approach to such issues by authorities such as those in Kenya who take a very harsh approach, arrested or deporting Ethiopians.” Some observers would like to see donors go beyond the assumption that training is the only way to support African journalism and offer budgetary support to journalists and newsrooms. In some cases there are early examples of this shift already occurring. “Donor support should concentrate on helping African journalists to do their jobs—not telling them how to do that job,” says Allison. “This usually involves providing the resources necessary for them to do this. For example, one donor provided me with funding to attend an African Union Summit in Ethiopia.” Even in this instance a workshop was attached to the travel budget, he says, “which was not especially illuminating, but it allowed me to report first-hand on the summit, which was the real value of the trip”. Rather than general budget support to individual publications another approach would be to fund specialist correspondents to cover particular beats
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such as migration, transnational crime or finance. The current donor landscape includes developed world news organizations offering scholarships and fellowships, as well as a number of grant-making bodies. However, the latter approach, which includes various journalism awards, often come with entry fees or onerous reporting requirements. These requirements are already the bane of overstretched newsrooms in Europe and the US and their African counterparts have even fewer resources to devote to meeting them. With this in mind, Allison makes a plea for a light-touch from donors designing any new support programs: “An important consideration is that most newsrooms do not have the administrative skills to fulfil onerous reporting criteria—sometimes, the cost of the grant is almost entirely consumed by the time and money spent reporting back to the donor.”
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Recommendations Our core recommendation is that the Ford Foundation should support an Africa Media Innovation Network based on the continent to share and develop ideas on editorial, technological and commercial change and adaptation. Its foundation derives from the mobile phone revolution in Africa and the capacity it showed to leapfrog 20th century technology. Parallel projects are taking shape with off-grid power using solar energy and distance learning using digital classroom techniques. The media innovation network would try to draw together at its core the new generation of digital start-up companies and studios in cities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Accra, Johannesburg, Casablanca, Cairo and Tunis. The network would aim to provide pro-active support to boost the capacity of journalists and media companies at a time when change is accelerating in global media companies and widening the digital divide with Africa. More practically, it would produce solutions and strategies in real time for problems encountered by African media companies. The aim would be to develop ways of sustainable revenue generation, taking ideas that have worked in other regions and, like Mpesa, developing some uniquely African approaches. It would be geared to on-the-job solutions and on-going mentoring and advice services rather than the periodic seminar or training-course approach. Accordingly, it would draw heavily on new digital tools in education as well as the pool of experienced African journalists from national and global media companies. Its precise structure and technical capacities should emerge from detailed consultations with African journalists, media company executives, audiences and businesses.
From our research, the network would be most needed in three areas: editorial, technological and commercial. There follows a list of areas that African journalists and media companies have described as pressure points, where pooling ideas and experience could address the mounting pressures on journalists and the media in general.
Editorial directions Disruption: everywhere the big news organizations were once monopolies and oligopolies; now they’ve lost that status to the digital news industry. Africa’s digital news operations have built impressive audiences with a high degree of participation but few of them have reached commercial viability. Many would benefit from Audience Development specialists able to mediate between the company’s editorial and commercial goals. The declining trust in journalism is global and has driven the rise and rise of fact-checking. Organizations such as Africa Check should get more backing and take on a more federal structure across the continent. With enough resources, they could be more pro-active and fact-check poorly researched stories about Africa in the international media With the power of surveys and data, journalism is increasingly using the methodology of social science. Organizations such as the donor-funded Afri-barometer and some commercial opinion survey companies. Innovative ways should be found to develop the capacities of these organizations, perhaps by partnering with universities, the UN system, the World Bank and the IMF. Journalists, publishers and media companies should build an international platform for dialogue on the priorities for development of multi-media digital news. It could be mediated through journalism schools and student-academic exchanges. The topics could include: how to protect journalism from encroachment by advertising, public relations
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and entertainment; the future of public interest journalism; how to promote conversational and inter-active journalism that strengthens communities; how to report on those populist politicians using social media to target voters directly; the threats posed by cyber surveillance.
Technological innovation There is an ambivalence to social media across Africa, particularly in the media industry: “the power of GAFAs [Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon] is both an opportunity to address more and different users and a critical risk to our media role of hierarchizing messages,” according to a Reuters correspondent with African and other international experience. To examine the capacity of existing regional and continental institutions in Africa would examine calls for the regulation of technology platforms, especially social media. It would need some research capacity to look at the management of the technology in other regions and what means there are to promote specifically African technology platforms. African and international funds should invest in start-ups (such as SamDesk and Dataminr) geared to media operating on the continent to make better use of data, to keep track of the explosion of new information and platforms. Given the critical importance of changes in the capital and money markets, investor perceptions and ratings agencies, it would have a clear commercial, as well as a news, function. The African Development Bank and the Afreximbank could launch a specialized fund for the purpose. The coming information wars with robo-journalism and augmented journalism offers both threats and opportunities to African newsrooms. It was computer-assisted reporting using Big Data analytical skills that made possible such stories such as Gupta emails in South Africa; Panama and
Paradise papers. These skills and techniques should be more widely disseminated through journalism schools in Africa, perhaps drawing on fund from the big social media platforms and their associates.
Journalism and business Most media companies agree in the over-arching focus on mobile news and mobile entertainment but the critical questions about how much will phone companies charge or how much will users pay remain without clear answers for the most part. It could lay the basis for the biggest information revolution in Africa since the Independence era. Given the rapid growth of services, communications and media in many African economies, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa should play a role in mapping strategies which could give the region a technological edge but maintain an open information regime to the greatest number of people. It could be held up as one of the fastest ways to achieve the educational targets in the UN’s sustainable development goals. National communications authorities should look more closely at the concentration of media ownership ahead of what most specialists believe will be the era of mergers and acquisitions. The media innovation network could fund and organize a wave of market and technical research into the commercial strategies available to African media companies as they seek to restructure. Topics to interrogate would be how publishers can redefine their relationships with social media platforms[“Platforms are eating up the audience and the marketing dollars that media companies depend on.”] Should publishers fight back by creating their own platforms or can they persuade platforms to pay hard cash for content? Amazon, Google and Omidyar already fund some media operations in Africa but seem not to have hit on a sustainable model. What is the potential for
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advertising for publishers; direct reader payment; membership; sponsored content; paywall-digital subscriptions in Africa Negotiations in regional organizations over protocols to regulate data should be accelerated and updated. Given that the management of and investment in data and segmentation is a major driver of revenue for media companies globally, Africa needs a regulatory regime that is flexible but provides a way to prioritize the needs of its core audience first. Scaling up an international fund to back African media-IT start-ups which are struggling to find finance for commercially exciting and socially useful projects. For example, there are plans in Lagos and Johannesburg to develop an African variant of Cheddar, a business news video network, that streams content from the New York Stock Exchange. It then edits it and distributes it on social media platforms: charges a premium subscription and earns carrier fees from Facebook live, Twitter and Netflix. Or there is Zipline, a drone carrying vaccines, medicines and blood, raised $85 million from Silicone Valley to launch partnership with government of Rwanda; it serves at least 20 hospitals with deliveries of medicine and blood; possibilities to expand the model to include digital medicine and public service journalism on developments in the health sector.