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The problem of Africa’s misrepresentation in the press coverage

@ChiaraFomia

If you ask someone raised by Western culture how he or she imagines Africa, there will appear words such as poverty, hunger, tribes, conflict, illiterate, starving children, diseases, misery, uncivilized, untamed, savage, wild animals. We look at Africa with the wrong glasses on, feeding stereotypes and myths. Most of them come from mass media. They are the responsible of creating these negative stereotypes because they produce the news under the eurocentrist perception. All the western countries, historically, did not like the countries that did not follow their rules, so they adopted a paternalistic attitude and they started to see Africa as something that needed to be saved and tamed.

Media is very simple when covering Africa. They refer to the whole continent instead of determining the country. We do not hear “America” or “Oceania” or “Asia” in the news, but this is how the coverage of Africa works. This continent has 43 countries, over 1,2 billion people (second largest population) and over 1.500 languages: it’s the most multilingual continent in the world. But this is not the message that is told by the media. The message is, indeed, oversimplified.

Africa’s media coverage is also influenced by the “celebrity involvement”: famous people go to the continent and they spread paternalist and racist messages, oversimplifying and perpetuating the victim stereotype. They sell that Africa is something that must be saved.

Why does this happen? Because issues are too complex and there is a lack of knowledge. Moreover, there are not cultural ties and there is no connection between the journalist and Africa (due to social and cultural differences, very common in such a complex world). The result is a kind of journalism that works as a parachute because “it sells”. People expect it, and people get what they expect. “There are social scripts and the story must be change”. It all ends up in sensationalism. 

To sum up, Africa is underrepresented in the media. Africa is only relevant for Western newspapers when there is a disease, an illness, starving people or a war. That is why citizens among different African countries have started movements in Twitter such as #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, sharing photographies of African cities with great architectural richness, and vindicating the value and the beauty of the African Continent as an answer to a coverage based in poverty.

Media have to demystify stereotypes, to diversify the topics of the articles about Africa, to send more journalists to cover all the African countries and to let the locals speak out (to empower them, to give them voice). The clue is slow journalism: to understand Africa, it is necessary to spend time in there.