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Western media dominates Africa due to its lack of free press


Inside CNN's 24-hour newsroom

by Joseph Earnest  August 10, 2012                   


Newscast Media WASHINGTON, D.C.—From the suburbs of Cairo, to the townships around Capetown, satellite dishes are a familiar sight on rooftops, within the Continent.  Dominating the TV screens are news bulletins, programs or documentaries produced by the western media.  Even with local programming from the motherland, Africans are willing to pay extra fees for cable channels broadcasting from the West.


Yet behind this gravitation away from local programming to western news agencies lies a phenomenon occurring in countries that have not been too kind with their local press.  For example, most of the well-funded media outlets in Africa are state-owned. This allows the news programmers, editors and directors to pick and choose what to show the public.  There are virtually no independent media outlets on the Content that have the liberty to publish or broadcast news critical of the state, due to fear of arrest or losing the government-approved media licenses.


No such thing as the free press exists in Africa, because those who have tried to break away from the mainstream news outlets and report the truth with honesty, have either been jailed, threatened with arrest or have lawsuits dancing on their shoulders.  The other media outlets that appear to be alternative and independent news sources have either been bought off, and are therefore compromised, or are in the process of being shut down due to their straightforward reporting.


Journalists are the most persecuted group of human rights defenders in the continent, according to Zambian Watchdog. (pop-up)


Some might argue that a country like South Africa gives media practitioners more latitude in terms of reporting. However, South Africa recently passed the "Protection of Information" bill that is commonly known as the Secrecy Bill. Many are concerned about the bill and have been critical of it.


"The Secrecy Bill, would eliminate whistleblower protections, force journalists to reveal their sources, and criminalize the withholding of classified information. The bill does not allow for a "public interest defense," meaning that journalists would not be protected for leaking information even when exposing government corruption or misconduct. Sentences may be as high as 25 years," according to this detailed article by PEN International. (pop-up)


As long as journalists in Africa, who are supposed to be the watchdogs and gatekeepers of society encounter hostility from their local governments, there will always be a vacuum that western media will fill.

Click here to download or read the entire Protection of Information bill. (pop-up)


Why do many Africans rely on the western media for comprehensive news? It is because they get from the West what they can never get from the local, African media—investigative journalism.  Many viewers want a broader scope of what is happening—not only within their borders, but in neighboring countries. News outlets like BBC, ABC News, CNN, Al Jazeera, Press TV and so forth, are more likely to give a detailed report about what is going on in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the tension between Tanzania and Malawi over Lake Malawi, without fear of government retaliation.  A local journalist on the other hand, would be in fear of his or her life for even hosting an investigative program that implicates people in power. This New York Times article talks about how a free African press is needed more than ever, as a key institution of development. (pop-up)


A good example why investigative journalism does not exist in Africa was reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Two Kenyan journalists who uncovered a police raid on a supermarket were faced with threats and are now seeking political asylum in Norway.

"Journalists in western Kenya are repeatedly targeted by local officials for their corruption coverage," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Kenyan authorities must end this practice, and they should start by immediately investigating these threats against Osinde Obare and David Musindi," CPJ reported. (pop-up)

There is an unspoken rule in journalism that says: "One for all...all for one." In other words, if one journalist is in trouble, all the other journalists will rally around him or her, and if all the other journalists are in trouble, one will speak up for all of them. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case in Africa.  It seems everyone is on his or her own. When one of them is wrongfully arrested, there is no outcry. Journalists will just sit and do nothing, while a colleague is unfairly arrested and thrown in jail. Where is the loyalty? This is very troubling.

Yet African media practitioners always make noise about the western media dominating the African landscape.  They often complain that the African narrative is being defined from a western perspective. Some of  these people could care less about the poor Africans whose funds that the West donates, have been misappropriated, and cannot afford medical treatment or clean water. Perhaps deep down inside they are filled with resentment because they witness the press freedoms in the West, that they themselves have been denied.

Africa has a lot of positives that aren't being reported, so you cannot put the blame on African leaders alone for muzzling the press.  The media itself has to take a good look at itself too.  If you were to take all news reports emanating from Africa at face value, you'd think the motherland is about to collapse.  For that, the leaders cannot be blamed, but the African media that seems to be lethargic when it comes to reporting good news about Africa, is to blame. Oh no, Africa is not about to collapse, Africa has seven of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Why doesn't the African media report this? Are they afraid that donations from the West will stop flowing to Africa if they report such uplifting and inspiring news about the Continent? You hear them rave about China, but sub-Saharan Africa had six of the fastest growing economies in the ten years leading up to 2010. It is also projected that between 2011-2015, of all the fastest growing economies in the world, the top seven will be sub-Saharan African, led by Ethiopia, reported by the Economist. (pop-up)

 african economiesIn order for a free press to thrive in Africa that will tell the African narrative in a way that African leaders believe accurately portrays Africa, they should allow the press to gather and share information without fear of being persecuted.  Laws that protect journalists' freedom of press rights should also be passed by African governments, rather than oppress and suppress the very people who are supposed tell the African story from their perspective.  Otherwise, the western media will always define Africa from its perspectiveand whose fault will that be?  Add Comments>>









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