Africa needs to take control of how Africa’s stories are told

By Mildred Thabane, CEO at Pekuzi Projects.

As communications professionals, one of our many roles is to use various communication tools to relay or share news and messages about clients to protect their reputation, doing damage control to counter any negative publicity, promoting services or products, and enhancing the brand of the organisations we represent.

Put simply, the main goal of communications professionals is to portray their clients in ways that will win them favour and put them in a positive light when perceived by the public, and one of, if not the most important vehicle used to achieve this is the media.

In a similar vein, as Africans living on the African continent which is filled with richness and beauty admired by many, we would want to be viewed in a favourable light by the rest of the world, with the possible result of African country economies being boosted through global investments in their many forms.

With all of this in mind, why does it seem like our very own African media seems to mostly report negative news of things which adversely affect the African continent? The answers can be found in a recent report from Africa No Filter, a not-for-profit set up in 2020 to help shift harmful and stereotypical narratives about Africa through research, advocacy, and grant-making to storytellers.

The report dubbed ‘How African Media Covers Africa’, highlights the fact that stories about Africa continue to be told through the same persistent and negative stereotypes and frames of poverty, disease, conflict, poor leadership, and corruption. The research surveyed 38 African editors, scrutinized content from 60 African news outlets in 15 countries including Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, DRC, Egypt, Tunisia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal between September and October 2020. In addition, four facilitated focus groups were held with 25 editors of African media, editors of pan-African outlets, and international correspondents.

The results confirm challenges and experiences that are common knowledge within the African media industry: advertising revenue and newsrooms are shrinking, influencing the kind of news that Africans read – which is largely negative and conflict-filled.

Key findings from the report show that the sources for news gathering on African countries are problematic, the resulting content continues to feed old stereotypes, and often the quality of local journalism doesn’t allow for nuanced and contextualized storytelling that is critical for telling stories about the 54 countries in Africa:

  • 63% of outlets surveyed don’t have correspondents in other countries in Africa.
  • 1/3 of all coverage on Africa was from non-African sources, with AFP and BBC accounting for ¼ of all stories found in African outlets about other African countries. African news agencies contributed minimally.
  • 81% of the stories analyzed were classified as “hard news” e.g., conflicts and crises driven by events – they were also largely political in nature.
  • 13% of the news focused specifically on political violence, civil unrest, armed conflict.
  • South Africa followed by Egypt were the countries with the most diverse coverage that was not necessarily linked to newsy events meaning that those two countries are probably the ‘best known’ on the continent.

Moky Makura, executive director at Africa No Filter puts it beautifully when she says, “It shows clearly that we have some work to do in educating ourselves about the role we play in perpetuating outdated stereotypes about ourselves. Narrative matters and it has implications beyond just storytelling, it impacts investment in Africa, on youth and opportunities people see in their countries, on migration, creativity, and innovation”.

 

Download the How African Media Cover Africa report for further reading.