Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Media, Educators & Government Discuss the African Story

Sthembiso Sithole

Nqakula told panelists that positive government stories need to be published.
The media is most people’s only window to places outside South Africa and through television screens, radio and newspaper reports people can be transported to countries across the African continent. But this picture of Africa depends on how the journalist and the news organisation they work for cover the rest of the continent. From their angle, people sitting in their homes across South Africa would then formulate their own picture of other regions in Africa.

Many would remember how the North African countries of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia dominated the news in 2011 as people were revolting against their governments. Libya’s was the most difficult as that country’s president Muammar Ghaddafi was refusing to step down until the rebels started hunting him down and eventually killed him. Nato also declared the airspace over Libya a no-fly zone and then started shelling the country. That is the story of North Africa from 2011 many would remember. The dictators who led those countries are no longer in power and as there are fewer protests, no shelling of the region and a bit of calm, the stories from there have also stopped. There is also a huge possibility that many who watched those conflicts would not know a North Africa without conflict as they’ve never seen it through their window.

How the continent is depicted in the media came under the spotlight on Monday during the Media and Communications Colloquium titled, “Telling the African Story: Presenting the Continent to the world.” The event was organised in Pretoria by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in partnership with Oresego Holdings. In the panel were media practitioners, media scholars and politicians.

During her opening speech, Home Affairs Minister, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stressed that it’s not just the media’s duty to tell the African story from the perspective of the continent, but a responsibility of those that are from the continent. She also questioned whether enough people have the ability of telling their own story. “There is a saying that [goes] as long as lions don’t have historians the story will be told by the hunter,” said Dlamini-Zuma.

Wits University Public and Development Management Senior Lecturer, Koffi Kouakou, said several questions need to be asked by African journalists. “What is story telling? How to tell it in your advantage?”

Last week the images that dominated international television and online news organisations were of clashes that took place between COSATU and the DA in central Johannesburg as the opposition party was marching for the implementation of the Youth Wage Subsidy. Many of those stories in international media were covered by South African journalists. Sometimes images of government corruption make it to these international news organisation, it’s seldom that positive stories of the country are told abroad.

Political Advisor to the Presidency, Charles Nqakula, blamed South Africa’s media for creating a negative image of government. He said the media often ignores positive stories such as openings of clinics. “The story that we are carrying is about failure. The president cannot read his speech, that is a story?”

Responding to Nqakula’s question, Mail & Guardian Political Reporter, Mandy Rossouw said government should not expect to be congratulated by the media when doing the job elected to do. “Why should we congratulate the government in what it’s supposed to do while my editor does not congratulate me when coming to work?”

Dlamini-Zuma feels African pride should be instilled in young journos.
Dlamini-Zuma feels a sense of African pride needs to be instilled in young journalists coming into the field so they change the African story told in the media. “Young journalists should be inquisitive and should want to find out for themselves and not write down stories they hear from other people. They should tell stories themselves and should be proud of themselves to be Africans.”

Others that were part of the panel discussion were SAFM presenter Tshepiso Makwetla, The Star Editor Makhudu Sefara, Sunday Times Reporter Mzilikazi wa Afrika and head of the University of Pretoria’s Journalism Department Professor Pippa Green.

As the conference ended it seemed an answer had not been found of how the story of Africa seen in Africa’s media can be changed. One can almost bet that in South Africa we will not get much coverage of Kenya unless there is violence similar to the one that took place after the December 2007 elections, we probably will never hear of Mali unless there is a coup, a counter coup or when rebels take over places in the north. The rest of the African continent will continue to be a bleeding place for us and as Rossouw explained - government here at home should not expect to be applauded on good work as her editor does not congratulate her for coming to work.

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