‘Africa should tell its own story’

Mbeki was writing in his weekly letter on the African National Congress website and said there was an urgent need to stem the tide of adverse reporting on Africa, which was killing the continent’s development hopes.

He said the persistent reports about the ‘evil’ in Africa were building negative perceptions about Africans, whose images were gradually being shaped by the stories carried by the Western media.

“Everyday the African and global media publish articles about Africa, based on events that have taken place in our continent.

“In time, these stories begin to define who and what we are. In due course, as we come to believe the resultant image of ourselves, we also begin to act the part,” Mbeki wrote.

African countries have been plagued by the scourge of adverse reporting, which many of them believe is aimed at tainting the continent’s image across the globe.

Government officials in Zimbabwe have complained about the negative reporting about the country in the Western media, particularly in the United Kingdom and United States.

Throughout the country’s land reform programme, Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry officials said media reports from the West were deliberately demonising the country and its agrarian transformation programme.

While the reason for the adverse reportage is unclear, observers are persistently sceptical about western reports regarding the African continent.

Many have pressed for increased growth in media organisations in Africa that report news and events happening across the continent, culminating in several news agencies in countries and sub-regions across Africa.

Mbeki quoted extensively from various reports highlighting the negative reporting on Africa and issues relating to the continent.

One of the articles, written by Chris Thomson last year, highlighted the fact that despite vast changes in political, economic and social issues in several African countries, the reports in the western media regarding these countries was still negative.

“So what to do about the problem? If there’s one thing on which most African commentators agree, it’s that Africans must take responsibility themselves for how their continent is portrayed,” Thomson wrote.

According to Thomson’s report former African heads of state met in a presidential roundtable at Boston University in May 2005 to discuss the adverse western reporting on Africa.

The leaders resolved to draw up a set of strategies for African countries and institutions to counter the negative media portrayal of Africa.

The strategies included developing alternative mediums through which to tell the African story, a multimedia campaign to counter Africa’s negative image in the western press, and a strategy for engaging major media outlets to encourage more fair and balanced coverage of the continent.

August 2006
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