Monday, November 4, 2013

The Media in Africa: Beware of Natives

BuzzFeed has photos of 10 signs photographed in South Africa during the apartheid era and it is truly shocking to think that, as the article points out, these signs only became illegal in 1994. But that's why it should be even more shocking that instances of extreme racism and apartheid style thinking should still be so common in the international media today. I have listed a number of examples below, with links to some of the most offensive articles I've read in the past few years.

These are just the tip of the iceberg and a full study would take years. But, in no particular order, let's start with the stories about condom 'recycling' in Kenya and condom 'rental' in Tanzania. Whether the journalists who wrote these stories were bored or desperate is just one question; but what about the media outlet that published them and the public who read them?

One that goes back a few years is the 'story' about starving HIV positive people on antiretroviral drugs eating cow dung in Swaziland. Numerous media outlets echoed that one and it cropped up several times. There was even a story about a woman in Namibia who  claimed to have eaten cow dung but then admitted that she had made it up. She didn't attract anywhere near as much publicity, though.

The ever-popular notion of 'African' sexuality is a trusty tool in the journalist's store of prejudices. Although it has been debunked many times, the media picture of Africans has remained faithful to their apartheid agenda. Africans are truly 'other', that's why there are such massive HIV epidemics in some African countries, isn't it?

The UNAIDS Modes of Transmission analysis, which produces the 'science' behind the media's HIV related racism has also been criticized, but why attack the source of so many stories that everyone seems to enjoy and find so completely inoffensive? UNAIDS even recognizes the true HIV danger in African countries, unsafe healthcare. But they keep that to themselves, publishing advice about avoiding non-UN approved health facilities in a booklet for UN employees, courtesy of the sweetly named 'UN Cares' (about its own employees).

Occasionally a journalist may allude to the use of African participants as research fodder, but people are too used to hearing about the oversexed and feckless African to care very much about such abuse, especially when it can always be dressed up as 'helping'.

It's coming up to about six years since the international media 'discovered' the Tanzanian albino attacks and killings, even though they had been reported in local media for some time. The sloppy and offensive coverage that followed this great 'scoop' for the BBC continues, as do the attacks on persons with albinism. Why revise a story that has won praise and awards? Of what importance are accuracy and insight when opportunities for self-adulation are at stake?

The disgusting US Christian right story of the use of adult pampers as a result of anal sex among men who have sex with men has even done the rounds in some of the local media. We see articles about African countries claiming that homosexuality is 'brought in' by foreigners. But where did the homophobia come from?

There are sometimes instances of the kind of media friendly racism that is 'roundly' condemned, trivial matters that keep readers entertained, much easier to write about than anything that matters. But what the media writes is clearly not yet a source of offence to most people. Perhaps in years to come sites will be able to list some of the shockingly abusive things the mainstream media published about African people, who knows?


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