Articles - The Voice of Garanganze:  The Writings of Patrick Kalenga Munongo

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Africa and the Media
December 20, 2005

There is one thing that we can all be certain of; Very often news reports on Africa are negative, or unfairly depict the African people. It is common knowledge that the news media predominantly sensationalize events in order to capture the attention of an insatiable and misinformed audience. No one can deny that the African continent has had a lot of problems. Wars, poverty, undernourishment and corrupt governments are part of the myriad of societal ills that have prevented Africa from reaching its potential. In spite of all these heart wrenching facts, Africa is fraught with inspiring stories; stories of courage, resilience, perseverance and -as much as the media does not like to report- stories of success and stability.

However, the few positive pieces that are reported in the western media are overshadowed by images of machete-brandishing thugs hacking their fellow countrymen, as in the example of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. With the irrefutability of such evidence of violent acts, how can anyone fault the media for doing their job? The purpose of this article is not to blame the media for their reporting; rather it is to point to their habitual unfair representation of Africa and Africans. As a result of what is seemingly a ‘campaign of misinformation’ and distorted reporting, a lot of people in other parts of the world know very little of Africa, except what is shown on television, the most popular media outlet today. Images of brutal tribal rituals, an abundant wildlife, abject poverty, and underdevelopment are topics of interest. In a sense, the media becomes a contributor to what has been referred to as the ‘dumbing of America’, and in extenso, the western world.

To be certain, the misrepresentation of Africa is not a unique occurrence. Other groups would attest that they too have been on the receiving end of unfair news reporting at one time or another in history, in the newspapers or on television. Indeed with the advent of TV, such uninformed and regrettable work began to reach a wider audience that was and continues to be thirsty for the burlesque and entertainment run amuck. There are no accidental patterns of reporting in the news media. This is a very lucrative business, where producers and executives are savvy and knowledgeable. They know how human beings are

 

affected by images, and propagandist messages. These pictures become sacrosanct and are hard to delete from the wiring of the human brain. So, if one only sees negative pictures of Africans, they may end up believing that this is a prevailing reality.   As stated above, this article is not a denial of the ills that occur on the African continent.

But rather it is an attempt to point to the befogging powers that the mass media have on the world, whether it is in Africa, Central America, or anywhere.

The reverse effect, that is the showing of positive images of the west, has had some serious consequences on the populations in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa. Images that show opulent lifestyles, beautiful houses, and the appearance of a stress-free environment have been misleading. Young people and old alike believe that the west is synonymous to heaven and their own countries hell, even when these countries are at peace and have a semblance of development. And we can thank the media for being the best western ambassador to the world. If you were watching American programming in a developing country, very seldom would you see images of poor people, homelessness and undernourishment, and drug-infested neighborhoods. If you did, those images would be eclipsed by positive illustrations that would replace any negative thoughts you might have had. Because of the positive perception of everything that is ‘western’, and the popularization of that culture, even distasteful contributions, such as the use of foul language, or the far-reach of popular music for example, become behaviors to emulate. Western stars become objects of adulation, and progressively local cultures and heroes dissolve. The ability of embellishment that the media has on its chosen few can have irreversible consequences on other groups, even within the confines of a given country.

Western media, especially American media, remain the most popular and influential in the entire world. They should use their power for the betterment of society and should continue to report on African suffering and pain, as well as on success stories. The undoing of the oft-erroneous views of Africa can only come from the same media that helped build them.



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