Saturday, July 30, 2011

BBC Trying to Fill a Niche Vacated By News of the World?

One of the issues that crops up a lot on this blog is the kind of things that non-Africans would believe about Africans. There was a lot of media coverage (or 'wallowing', even) around albinos being targeted by witch doctors or traditional medicine practitioners in Tanzania.

The problem is not that the media covered these terrible events; the problem is that just because such events were uncovered, this doesn't mean they are just a part of Tanzanian or African life.

So a few months ago I came across an article that was specific about the gory details but silent about anything that would allow the veracity of the story to be examined. The article, run by Reuters and echoed by hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, claimed that three albino brothers were murdered, buried and exhumed so their body parts could be used for something or other.

At the time, I was working with albinos in Northern Tanzania, where this event was said to have occurred. I asked colleagues and friends, including albinos. No one had heard of this story and they had no way of knowing how to check if it were true. I even asked some Tanzania Albino Society (TAS) leaders, one of them being the chairman of TAS, said to have been interviewed for the story. No one knew anything.

I contacted Reuters, posted a message on the article and emailed the author. I received nothing except advice to contact the author. The article is still on Reuters' site. And hundreds of copies and echoes of the article are also scattered around the web for posterity.

In a similar vein, I saw a story during the week on the BBC website claiming that some Swazis taking antiretroviral drugs are so hungry that they eat cow dung to ensure that the drugs 'work'. The drugs are supposed to be taken with food.

The question isn't really about whether the story is true. Someone may have eaten cow dung, somewhere, at some time, or someone may have just claimed that they did. The question is about whether this is a story? If so, is it about Swazis, HIV, food shortages, poverty or prejudice? If you read the sort of things that Nazis said about Jews, it included references to feces, living in feces, being covered in feces, eating feces.

When you 'report' that people are eating feces, for whatever reason, are you trying to raise sympathy, or are you simply playing on the anti-African prejudices that many media outlets have been so happy to hone over the years?

The question is of vital importance. Since HIV has been pinned on Africa, African sexual behavior, African morality, and whatever else suits a story angle and media trends, many seem to have lost sight of the fact that HIV is a virus, one that makes people very sick and eventually die.

Articles appear to be more concerned with slavering over the details about genitalia, tribal practices, non-use of contraception and just about anything else except the fact that HIV is a virus, a sickness, one of many that infect Africans in grotesquely disproportionate numbers.

With rare exceptions, the media doesn't ask questions that they don't already have what they consider to be the answer. So they ask why some African countries have massive HIV epidemics, but not why any country should have massive rates of viral transmission when it is a very difficult virus to transmit, sexually, at least.

Because it is sexual transmission the media is interested in, make no mistake about that. And they have their answer: it's African sexuality, morality, behavior, etc. The men have sex with anyone they wish to have sex with, the women will do anything to have children or to get money for their families, it's all led by sexual desire, rampant brutality, inhuman behavior.

When babies and young children are found to be HIV positive even though their mothers are negative, it's attributed to the fact that they are raped by their father or by a family member. When old, no longer sexually active people get HIV they say 'even old people are at risk'. Pregnant mothers appear to get infected during or just after giving birth, and even when their sexual partner is not infected it is suggested that they simply must have had sex with someone who was infected.

The story about Swazis eating cow dung with their HIV drugs appears to be a symptom of how the media can write whatever they want, with the understanding that they are just pulling strings that people are well conditioned to respond to. The victims of anti-African prejudice are now guinea-pigs in Western drug trials and even charades that claim to relate to health, but are really just mass eugenics exercises.

I'm sure the BBC didn't give this article about Swazis eating cow dung a great deal of thought, and many of their articles look similarly thoughtless, media memes that have as little impact as some of the interstitials that appear on other news sites. But the fact that people can write and even read such an article and not protest means that the corporation has a rotten streak, whether through carelessness or design. Are they trying to fill a niche left vacant by recent changes in the media world?


1 comment:

Simon said...

Here's an article that appears to support the BBC's claim:

Make of it what you will.