If you are like me I am sure you’ve been wondering what is going on with recent news from the African continent. For example – I met a gentleman who I’ll refer to simply as a friend – at a restaurant in Aurora, Colorado on January 16. After a brief conversation, he quickly asked me what the hell was going on in Kenya.
I presumed my friend knew something about the African continent because he was eager to discuss the subject after we had spoken for just a few minutes. I identified myself using my business card which I usually keep in my wallet. The card bears my affiliations with Africa Agenda.
My friend later told me he is retired from the United States Navy. Before he retired, he added, he had been deployed as a service member to several countries in Eastern Africa.
These countries included Kenya, the scene of a January 15 terrorist incident. This is why this friend wanted to talk about what he heard on the news that was taking place in the country. He told me he was troubled by what was going on there.
According to National Public Radio (NPR News) the terrorist attack at a luxury hotel in Nairobi, Kenya resulted in many deaths, including an American citizen. The assailants have been identified by the Kenyan government as militants from Al Shabaab terrorist group.
Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, another grabbing headline story is taking place.
There is a nationwide protest against an increase in fuel prices, engineered by the government of President Emerson Mnangangwa, which has led to an internet blackout in the country. The events have led to a crackdown by the government on protesters, with others being dragged to court for inciting instability.
The events from Kenya and Zimbabwe have suddenly become the biggest Africa news stories at the start of 2019. They are big stories because of the increased focus and attention paid to them by the news media.
While a recent regime change and peaceful transfer of power in Zimbabwe was praised by some in the media that act of democracy may still not be enough to erase all of the “bad faith” the international community has in Zimbabwe and its people.
“What good can come out of Zimbabwe?” the question goes.
In Zimbabwe, a country whose circumstances don’t mirror that of Kenya, the attention to what is going on there has to be looked at from a different perspective.
The matter with Zimbabwe is that while change has taken place at some level, it may be years before this peculates into our psyche and for that matter the psyche of people in our newsrooms.
True or not, Zimbabwe is still bleeding. “If it bleeds, it leads,” the saying goes in newsrooms all around us.
Whether there is enough weight to give the Kenya incident the splash that it is getting is another story entirely. But we’ve seen news managers turn every negative story from the African continent into a “Blockbuster” scoop as if there was nothing else in town to talk about. Unfortunately, the same news managers have refused to talk about all the “shenanigans” of current U.S. President Donald Trump because…you guess the rest.
The excuse I hear about this is that “we are not an opinion channel.”
What’s my response to this? Bulls#*#t!
Let me add one caveat to this. I see this mostly with so-called local news in America.
I say all of this against the backdrop of reports which contradict the increased negative image that local media in the U.S. continues to paint about the African continent.
A good example of this contradiction, and a recent one for that matter, is a headline from the Chicago Tribune’s Arthur I. Cyr boldly asking readers’ to “Look beyond the media scare stories.” What a statement!
The trigger to this is the writer’s own dissatisfaction with the manner of presentation of the news by media in the U.S. – news that is too focused on what’s wrong, against the better judgement of all the organizations that are saying otherwise.
One of the bright spots the writer cites is the African continent, using reports from the much-respected Brookings Institution and the World Bank. Cyr states:
“The influential, respected Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., currently is devoting helpful in-depth focus to Africa development. The “Africa Growth Initiative” is a valuable continuing source of research information.
Reinforcing and directly related to the article by Greg Ip, the World Bank has just issued the “Doing Business 2019” report. The document evaluates trends in starting a new business, securing credit, quality of government regulation, absence of corruption and related matters. Sub-Saharan Africa is rated highest in terms of positive reforms over the past fifteen years.”
On the question of a “rut” in optimism, I believe the writer is correct, right on point, that journalists spend too much of their time trying to please their readers with negative stories that may not be in the best interest of their audiences. If there is a “rut in optimism” what’s the alternative?
News managers and publishers, the ones who hold the keys to the castle, must encourage writers and their audiences to seek stories that point them the other way. At the very least – to alternative sources of news.
On the same question of a “rut of optimism” that often turns readers off, Cyr states:
“Shared opinions are not necessarily entirely accurate opinions, but there is strength in numbers, and the results of in-depth research bolster the views.”
This “strength in numbers” basically is an admission of the fact that overwhelming the statistics don’t lie. Yet we see news directors in America inundating us with negative news about the African continent.