By Ronald Joshua
KIGALI (IDN | GIN | The New Times) – Media practitioners from around the continent have called for more emphasis on principles of independence, fairness and accountability as prime kits to tell the African story through the African media.
Driven by the concept of ‘Africa that we want’ motto through the ‘Africa Media We Want’ mantra, the call was made when journalists gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, on November 7, for the Africa Information Day, which was celebrated in parallel with the eighth National Media Dialogue.
Among the activities was the launch of the Media Barometer, a tool to self-assess the respect for freedom of expression and information and the state of the media in a specific country, the Development Journalism Awards and the presentation of work contracts, known as Imihigo, setting out the role for media practitioners in the development of the country.
Several speakers stressed the need for African media practitioners to own the Africa story, often at variance from the coverage by global media outlets, mainly those of western countries.
“This has disempowered local practitioners,” Rwandese reporter Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti wrote in The New Times newspaper. “It leaves the continent at the mercy of the Western media which has ended up distorting the African story.”
Africa has also been misrepresented by omission, he said, whereby the western media, due to lack of contextual orientation, end up getting the story wrong, often with serious consequences.
New Times columnist Gitura Mwaura pointed to a recent study by the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institute which includes a search for the top 50 keywords in the headlines of Africa-related articles in 20 major Western and African media sources for the period January-November 2015.
“Western outlets [focused] more on the negative, with ‘death,’ ‘crisis,’ ‘refugees,’ and ‘attack,’ much more common,” the Brookings researchers found.
“Western media has been under scrutiny for its coverage of the African subcontinent, as often it seems to cover mostly negative trends or times of crisis,” Mwaura observed. “This tendency is unfortunate: A strong media that accurately covers events in a timely fashion can reduce information asymmetries; biased or partial coverage can, however, distort perception.”
Rodrigue Rwirahira and Rhiannon Snide reported in The New Times Johnston Busingye, Justice Minister and Attorney General, stressing that it was the role of the media to take its story to the greatest height and defy the past negative narrative that has always been fuelled by hostile western media institutions.
“In the past our story (Rwanda) was told as a tiny, overpopulated, ethnically divided and poor people country, it is up to the media to challenge such narrative,” he said.
“Most of the time our positive stories were underreported, unreported or distorted, the story outside there has been nothing else other than one of disease, corruption, wars; this is an opportune moment to see how better we can position African media with other positive stories on the global landscapes.”
Busingye reiterated that the drive to promote the ‘Africa media we want’ motto fits well with the ongoing African Union reforms to make the continent more reliable on itself other than looking for aid from Western donors.
Challenged by issues around the ability to tell Africa’s own and actual stories, the media fraternity equally resounded the need for more professionalism, state support for financial avenues to allow independent media but, more importantly, on how to get rid of the often Western narratives on the status quo of African affairs.
Kabral Blay Amihere, a Ghanaian media consultant, who was on a panel of experts to discuss the role of the media in Africa’s development, said there is need for states to enhance professionalism to help media tell the African story from a perspective that is as professional as possible.
“We need to enhance capacity because the issue of quantity is fair, but the quality, competence; we need to work on those. There is a need to promote social media, because the numbers in Africa are far way behind the West; this will help in telling the true African story in due time,” he said.
Amihere, however, said by telling the stories, journalists should not be mouthpiece of their states but rather people’s representatives who will front public needs before responsible authority, educate and inform the people while setting the agenda.
“States should move on to create an enabling atmosphere for the press to take advantage of the infrastructure, they are not obliged to be mouthpieces for government, rather seeing themselves as representatives of the people, and reflecting the people’s need,” he added.
Prof. Anastase Shyaka, the chief executive of Rwanda Governance Board, whose agency oversees the regulation of the media in the country, argued that several reforms in the past have helped the country to tilt the sector in the right direction.
“Information that we share should be at the heart of Africa’s transformation and to the Africa we want as it was agreed upon recently by the African leaders,” he said.
The One UN resident coordinator, Lamine Manneh, commended the media for their continuous efforts to inform that public on matters that affect their daily lives. He also commended the government for its efforts to enhance the media landscape and pledged continued support to media development as a key ingredients to deepening democracy.
Ondrej Simek, head of political press and information section at the European Union, said the media landscape both in the western world and in Africa share some commonalities, although adequate training to journalists, acquiring reliable sources, and creating more efficient financing, are obstacles the Rwandan media can address to be able to move toward “the media we want.”
“These are all challenges that need to be addressed, and they certainly don’t differ in the media, West or East,” he said.
In their recommendations, the dialogue called on African states to create a hospitable environment for media to ensure an unbiased press, by encouraging dialogue that promotes social responsibility.
The media’s role as an educational tool to aid in development and democracy was also stressed, not simply relying on the negative issues that are happening in Africa and not to toe the line of distortion and hostile Western media that have been infamous for portraying the continent negatively.
The media was also encouraged to re-strategise business plan, so the press can thrive and adapt to new technologies while still maintaining profits. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 November 2016]
Photo: Amihere (C) speaks on a panel discussion as Arthur Asiimwe, head of Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (L) and Fred Golooba-Mutebi, a researcher and lecturer Makerere University, Uganda, look on. Credit: T. Kisambira
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.