The world has for a long time been driven by narratives. World powers have understood the importance of the media in driving social policies, political philosophies, religious ideas, and economic policies, in the development of the nation state. During the colonial era, the press was used by western and European powers to further push their agenda in Africa. The agenda of political domination, imposing new economic systems, religious and spiritual belief systems, and ultimately changing the ways of life for Africans. During the Cold War, the importance of the media couldn’t be more emphasised.
Most media houses became grounds for publishing propaganda to manufacture public consent. America had press houses such as the New York Times, which still functions till today. Britain has over the years developed the public broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In recent times China developed its own press, China Central Television (CCTV). In December 2016 the China Global Television Network (CGTN) was launched by CCTV. CCTV also broadcasts in Chinese.
Deutsche Welle or DW, a German media house, broadcasts in over 30 languages. DW has been broadcasting since 1953 and it is found in over 60 countries. The stated goals are to convey Germany as a “liberal, democratic state based on the rule of law”, to produce reliable news coverage and to provide access to the German language.
There have been numerous complaints over the years about how Africa is usually covered by the Western and European press. The narrative by Joseph Conrad in his ‘Heart of Darkness’ seems to have set the pace for the coverage of Africa as a dark continent. Chinua Achebe was quoted as saying, “if you don’t like someone’s story, write your own.” The question then becomes, what has Africa or Africans been doing about telling their own stories? Are we doing enough to counter the often negative narratives about the continent and its people. We indeed have major problems but we are not a continent of wars, ethnic conflict, famine as has been normalised by the global media.
The expectation that the Western press should cover Africa’s crisis the way they’d cover their own crisis is simply unrealistic. Biases which have long been held by foreigners about civilisation in Africa persist. Narratives in many of the foreign media seem to cement these often racist biases. The best option to counter such negative narratives and begin to tell African stories as objective, fair and impartial as possible is the development of vibrant media houses, owned, funded, and run by Africans for African viewers and audiences. There is need to support strong media houses that tell the story of the continent to effectively counter the biases, from an African standpoint. Africans should be able to stand firm to be able to dictate terms with regards to media development projects funded by foreign organisations.
When natural disasters occur, they are not only restricted to America, Asia or Europe. The recent mud slides in Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea deserve global coverage, the same attention afforded to similar natural calamities. The floods in the Benue State in Nigeria where over 100,000 people have been affected deserve coverage as well. Critics have often asked Africans: why should the western press be expected to do the coverage for us? It is our crisis, and it is our story to tell to the world. There is a lack of a sustained reportage on African narratives in the mainstream media. Social media in as much as it is an important platform is not adequate to fully tell our stories.
China, America, Britain and Germany are world powers in their own rights, but they understand the importance of having a strong media presence and controlling the narrative. Rather than stifling the media African governments should ensure they support the development and growth of the industry in their respective countries.