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Peaceful elections just ain’t news – the dire state of world reporting on Africa

Yesterday I picked up a discussion on Facebook, via a friend, about media coverage of the Ghanaian elections (voters went to the polls yesterday, and votes are being counted now, if you missed it, by the way) why had there been so little election coverage on the Western networks? Very little on CNN; very little on BBC.

“I was hoping, only hoping that for just a fraction of a moment the media cameras and the pens will slip from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe onto Ghana. Just a bit of positive reportage on Africa! That’s all I was hoping for. But I guess that’s not sensational enough for the Western media. ‘Ghana peacefully elects a new President’… that’s not headline stuff! It simply does not sell,” wrote Maclean Arthur.

Meanwhile, Oluniyi David Ajao rounds up the poor global news coverage here, on his blog. ‘Does Ghana exist’ he asks? He finds it ‘interesting that many of the leading Western media outlets have not made a mention of Ghana 2008 Elections.’

“Perhaps, Ghana does not exist on their radar screen. Ghana, like the rest of black Africa will only pop-up on their monitoring screens when over 1,000 people have butchered themselves or over 300,000 people are dying of starvation, or over 500,000 people are displaced by a civil war,” Ajao writes.

Over on Facebook, others were quick to join in the criticism and call for more African specific coverage, in the form of an African television network.

That’s exactly what Salim Amin wants to set-up, in a bid to counter existing coverage (or lack thereof) with a proposed all-African television network, A24, as I have written about on Journalism.co.uk before. Amin told me in September:

“Everything we get is negative out of Africa. 99 per cent of the news is genocides, wars, famine, HIV.

“We’re not saying those things don’t occur or we’re going to brush them under the carpet, but what we’re saying is there are other things people want to know about. About business, about sport, about music, environment, health…

“Even the negative stuff needs to be done from an African perspective. African journalists are not telling those stories – it’s still foreign correspondents being parachuted into the continent to tell those stories. We want to give that opportunity to Africans to come up with their own solutions and tell their own stories.”

However, Amin is still searching for suitable investors that won’t compromise the ideals and aims of the channel. In the meantime, A24 exists as an online video agency.

The pitiful global coverage of the Ghanaian election reinforces the need for better and wider spread African news coverage, that isn’t just the stereotypical coverage we’re so used to, as Maclean Arthur referred to on Faceboook as ‘the usual images of dying children with flies gallivanting all over their chapped lips.’

Yes, some websites are bridging some gaps (for example, New America Media for the ethnic media in the US, and Global Voices Onlinewho wrote about Twittering the Ghanaian elections here), but there’s still a heck of a way to go. BBC World Service may have a Ghana Election page, but it’s not quite on the same scale as you might see for a European election is it?

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  • http://www.daveleejblog.com Dave Lee

    I’m not sure I agree. I watched TV news briefly yesterday and I caught two reports of the Ghana elections. One was in the morning as people went to the polls, the other in the evening as a retrospective piece on the day.

    People going to a poll is a newsworthy but, in some ways, rather uneventful. Sadly, a big fight kicking off at polling stations is more newsworthy — not because journalists are looking for the shock factor, just simply because it’s important.

    Then again — I see no mention of the elections in today’s Guardian, so perhaps you’re right. Tough one to call.

  • http://www.journalism.co.uk Judith Townend

    Yes, initially I was impressed by BBC coverage and then took a step backwards, and thought that no, that’s only in comparison to some of the other networks and news sites (which didn’t take much).

    Dave, you say that people going to a poll is uneventful. True, but we seem to wring enough out of that when it comes to elections in other peaceful places, and there’s been very, very little comment on Ghanaian results coming in now, which is news surely.

    At time of writing there’s nothing on the TimesOnline world page, a small piece buried on the Telegraph.co.uk world page, nothing on the Guardian world page, nothing on the Independent.co.uk world page.

    The Kenyan elections were bloody, and it took that to get the world’s attention.
    The point is that European elections for countries of equal size to Ghana (I admit that US elections are another case entirely) don’t need to be violent to get coverage.

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  • Tracy

    As a Yank (African-American Female), I too like the BBC but am more partial to CNN (American and International editions). On Sunday, I watched the news thorougout the day and did not see one bit of information about the Ghanaian elections. I even went to CNN.com today to make sure I hadn’t missed anything and guess what? The author is correct. It does seem that only negative news gets reported from the Motherland! This does not go unnoticed by people of the Diaspora; we have these conversations among ourselves all of the time. I hope there will be an all-Africa News organization someday. By God’s grace, I would find a way to invest in it; so, Salim Amin, do not give up on your/our dream!!!!

  • http://www.bischoff.no Bischoff

    I must admit I am slowly getting more and more disappointed at the coverage and interest from foreign medias. I mean, we keep getting reports and articles about the terrible state of Zimbabwe, the fighting in Congo, the corruption in Nigeria. An unknown number of experts are called in to comment on the “recent developments” and discussing how to solve issues and make “the African lives better”. Then! We have an election going on – an election taking place in one of the most peaceful countries in Africa, a true flagship of democracy in Africa, and we don’t hear a single word. I do, unfortunately, understand that this do not sell as much as blood, but still – why do we absolutely have to maintain this picture of Africa as the “homeland of barbarism”? By looking at Ghana, we see that democracy have a place in Africa too.

  • Edward Boateng

    Is all very sad…I have watched all the western media networks and haven’t seen anything about the peaceful ghana election that started on sunday the 7th of december 2008..Let them start violence and is on all the chanells.Meanwhile the coverage of this peaceful event won’t only put Ghana amongst the peaceful and civilised countries in the world but would help encourage investers to ghana which will create jobs but no,they would be happy to talk abt the war zone african countries makin a lot of people who don’t know much about africa think all Africa is about is killiing themselves.

  • Edward Boateng

    Mr.Dave Lee,which tv news did u see them talking about the Ghana Elections.Is only on the BBC site.

  • http://yahoo.com naomi zariah arieso

    the simple fact is that the western is happy with what is going on in Kenya, Zimbabwe and the rest.
    it time we Africans stand-up for ourselves and say enough to the violence and embrace peace. Africa is not a war zone.
    i am proud to be a Ghanaian and above all an African.

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