Ever been abroad and had someone ask whether you have lions and elephants roaming in your front yard? It’s not uncommon for Europeans or Americans to have pre-conceived notions about what it’s like to live on the African continent. Could that be because of the influence of news and entertainment media?
Africa (no, it is not a country!) has often been stereotyped as an un-developed, disease-ridden, famine and drought-stricken, wild, corrupt and brutal place. A bad wrap if there’s ever been one. As South Africans (yes, that is an actual country!) we know that the continent is about so much more.
It’s a great pity that the legacies of great African nations have been hidden in the past – covered up by the march of time in the annals of history written by victors. One only has to look at the dominance of the Mali Empire under Mansa Musa in the 1300’s to understand how much has been buried. It’s worth a Google if you haven’t heard of the astounding magnitude of Mansa Musa’s wealth and the vast reach of his Empire – today’s wealthiest billionaires would pale in comparison. Clearly the media of that day – the scribes and what-nots – have for too long been silenced.
The truth however is that African innovation is taking the world by storm. African entrepreneurs are excelling internationally. African sportspeople are flying their flags high. The late Nelson Mandela remains a beacon of benevolent, sober leadership across the globe. South African scientists are at the forefront of Covid-variant identification, as well as aeronautics on Mars. We know about these remarkable achievements on ‘home soil’ because our media covers them.
But is this enough to re-position the continent’s bad reputation? Is the media doing enough to share good news stories and change the narrative of Africa being a place where progress is backwards, and where investors should run scared?
Findings from the 2019 Africa in the Media Report published by the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Centre, paint a bleak picture of the perception of Africa in the USA: from more than 700,000 hours of news and entertainment that were monitored, only 25 scripted story lines were about Africa. Of the 32 topics tracked, only African history, music and sports received positive mention.
On top of unbalanced, and predominantly negative reporting, we’re also still faced with the scourge of fake news and misinformation – something South Africans experienced first-hand with the Gupta’s Bell-Pottinger white monopoly capital propaganda machine.
But there is some good news: the Reuters Institute of Journalism at Oxford University in its 2021 Digital News Report shares that over a 12-month period, public trust in South African media has increased to 52%. This probably is a result of the public reliance on fact-based media reporting amidst the global Covid-19 pandemic.
How influential is the media in defining Africa’s story?
Join the next episode of the Future of Media digital conference series in partnership with Africa No Filter, where a panel of traditional and new media publishers will unpack how the image of Africa has evolved in the media, and what the role of media is in helping the continent define, direct, write and own a more positive and optimistic story.
Panelists in the discussion, moderated by Siya Sangweni include:
- Moky Mokura – executive director, Africa No Filter
- Simon Allison – editor, Mail & Guardian
- Mary Harper – journalist and author specialising in Africa
- Marie Mbullu – a 20-year-old Tanzanian-American student using TikTok to create a significant stir in what news is told about Africa
Date: Tuesday, July 13