The need to promote a positive image of Africa: it is not the first time I come across this concept in my activity as a journalist and I am never too sure what it really means.
I was confronted once again with the same doubts when fellow journalists among the speakers and the attendees of the TH!NK3 launch event in Brussels agreed – with some exceptions – on the necessity of focusing more on good news when reporting from the continent.
I did some research and found out that several prominent speakers at a major African media conference in Kenya’s capital Nairobi expressed similar views a couple of days beforehand. The Pan African Media Conference 2010 celebrated the 50 years of the Aga Khan-founded Nation Media Group. It addressed topics such as media freedom and the way in which development issues affecting Africa are reported in the continent and outside.
Speaking at the opening ceremony on March 17th, Susan Byrnes, a deputy director of public affairs and communications with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said that progress and success stories in Africa were not given enough coverage by the media.
“Gloom and doom and controversy still rule when it comes to coverage of development,” said Byrnes, who worked as a journalist before she joined one among the world’s main private development donors, which is founding a media initiative for the coverage of development issues in Africa with a $750,000 grant.
When similar statements come from development actors such as the Gates Foundation, political leaders, economists and activists, it makes a lot of sense to me. I think I understand where they are coming from and what they are trying to achieve, but I have always thought journalists do not or should not share their agenda.
Please don’t get me wrong. I think media have a major role to play in Africa’s development and achieving development goals in fields such as human rights and good governance is hardly imaginable in countries where the media do not have the means and resources to function or are not free and independent.
Speaking of independence, though, the call for optimistic media, drawing a positive image of a particular country, makes me think of political speeches and threats in places where journalists do not have an easy life.
Some of these places and countries are part of the African continent, where development issues tend to be crucial and need to be addressed and brought to people’s knowledge. As everywhere else in the world, success stories are promoted and publicized by their protagonists – governments, development agencies, NGOs, donors, etc. Who will make sure citizens will get both sides of them should the media focus on the same aspects?