Africa as Represented in the Western Media: Fallacies, Approximations, Omissions

Over the past decades, the African society has undergone significant changes. However, the western media have not been able to report them accurately. International journalists with experience in Africa discussed the possible solutions in a panel called Africa as Represented in the Western Media: Fallacies, Approximations, Omissions chaired by Antonella Sinopoli, co-founder of Voci Globali.
Tolu Ogunlesi, an award-winning Nigerian journalist; Silvia Pochettino, a member of DevReporter Network; and Antonella Palmieri, an Italian freelance journalist; joined the discussion on the first day of the 2015 International Journalism Festival in Perugia.
One of the biggest problems of the international coverage, outlined in the discussion, is that the media approach Africa as if it was one homogenous country.
Ms Pochettino presented a research that examined Italian, Spanish and French coverage of news about Africa. It showed that more than a half of the examined articles made a generic reference to “Africa”. “This deprives the continent of its dignity and makes it impossible for people abroad to understand it,” she said.
Ms Palmieri said that the western media still “have a neo-colonialist attitude”. She explained that they stick with stereotypes of poverty and misery without publicising the progress and positive changes. “There’s a kind of a feeling that if you change the way in which you talk about Africa, the people will not click anymore,” she said.
Mr Ogunlesi agreed with this and referred to the “aid-dominated conversation” that should be, in his opinion, replaced by voices of self-confident local journalists. He pointed out that this will change with the rise of social media.
Twitter, for example, can bring stories that do not appear in mainstream media. It is also a place for campaigns promoting a different image of Africa. The panel mentioned initiatives like ‘Stop Ebola Senegal’, ‘I am Liberian, not a virus’ or ‘I don’t speak African, because African is not a language’. In fact, Facebook had more than 50 million active users in 2013 and the number keeps growing.
African journalists are lacking platforms to present their work to the international audience, so social media help to promote an alternative view. Sahara Reporters and Citizen TV Kenya belong to the few local outlets that help to debunk myths about Africa.
“International news about Africa get easily simplified and are misleading,” Mr Ogunlesi said. “Media look for the most outrageous bits, because that’s what they’re selling.”
Foreign aid agencies are in a similar situation. As Ms Pochettino explained: “NGOs are hesitant to show the positive side, because they might lose the funding and justification for their presence.”
Mr Ogunlesi also emphasised that improving economic performance of African countries will bring more international attention. “As there will be economic development in Africa, there will be more media focus,” he said.
Ms Palmieri added that journalists have to be not only responsible, but also confident. “You have to be brave, you have to dare to break the cycle,” she said. Mr Ogunlesi outlined a similar idea: “No one journalist can change the narrative on their own. Journalists need to stop being lazy and push themselves.”
Ms Sinopoli summarized that the audience also plays a role in the understanding of Africa: “The readers have a huge responsibility of searching for information, searching for more sources and reading more.”

Helena Kardova
Teresa Lopez