CNN and our rose tinted shades

IMG_0229.jpg#CNNGetItRight was trending recently after the just ended elections in Ghana. Africans and I guess the world, suddenly seemed to have the rotten egg of truth splattered across its face. The outcry against wrong, lazy, inaccurate (whatever you call it) journalism suddenly seemed too glaring for the eye to defocus. According to the misinformed CNN story, Ghanaians stand in long lines to get food and supplies in 2016! This off course is furthest from the truth. Ghana is a thriving country and has been so for many years. Anyone who cares to do the most basic of researches should know this. Just over seven years ago or so, we were actually counted amongst the fastest growing economies in the world at over 5% if my memory serves me correctly. The hash tag was started by Joy FM’ sports journalist Gary Al-Smith early Sunday morning. In an initial tweet, Gary wrote: “I didn’t know Ghanaians ‘stand in long lines to obtain products’ or ‘struggle to obtain food’. And I live there.” CNN corrected the story.

Another incident was alleged; that a reporter stationed in South Africa, was reportedly reporting ‘live’ from Nigeria. (Unverified)

Was this simply ignorance or disrespect from CNN or was it something more? The jury is still out on that. It has been a few days and the noise about this misstep has quieted and pretty much disappeared. Everyone has gone back to their comfortable silence and the statues-quo.

I recently made a presentation under the theme ‘Africa in the eyes of the world and the role of the media’ at the Webster University Ghana Campus, during which I sought to tease out some of the real underlying issues of why Africa is so misrepresented in the media; and here is my take…

But first lets give it some perspective. Africa is one of the most important continent and here is why: Africa has a total area of over 30 million square kilometers, about three-and-a-half times the size of the United States and 10 times the size of India. It is the second largest continent in the world after Asia. It possesses 99 percent of the world’s chrome resources, 85 percent of its platinum, 70 percent of its tantalite, 68 percent of its cobalt, and 54 percent of its gold, among others. It has significant oil and gas reserves according to the Africa Economic Analysis.

According to the economist: Were it not for the continued growth in Africa, the world might even come to have more old people in the world than young ones. By 2100, Africans will account for 48% of those aged 14 and under in the world and by the end of this century, Africa will be home to 39% of the world’s population, almost as much as Asia, and four times the share of North America and Europe put together. The world is ageing, but High birth rates in Africa and low ones elsewhere will more or less balance out

According to a Mckinsey report, at the margin, capital investment has a higher return in Africa. Three distinct sources of data indicate that returns on investments are higher in Africa than in other regions. One report indicated that companies’ average return on capital was around two-thirds higher than that of comparable companies in China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Another source showed that US companies were getting a higher return on their African investments than on those in other regions.

Africa is not left out in the technological space. Africa’s mobile phone penetration is now 67% and 26.5 % of the population of Africa is on the Internet. Africa has 50.3 million Facebook users and its contribution to innovation include the South African, Elon Musk of Tesla and Paypal fame. I can go on with others. See here some interesting conversations about Africa’s contribution to global progress! One may therefore ask the question. With all of this going for it, why is Africa so misrepresented in the global landscape? But before I delve into that, let me bring up a very important phenomenon.

Global convergence is the process of geographically distant cultures influencing one another despite the distance that physically separates them. The advantage of global convergence is access to a wealth of cultural influence; its downside, some critics posit, is the threat of cultural imperialism, defined by Herbert Schiller as the way developing countries are “attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating system.

The world is dominated and ruled by the spread of culture. It is called soft power and its vehicle is the media, mounted on mass communication. Think about how the colonial masters intricately wove their cultures into their colonies, by making their cultures attractive. Taste and finesse around the world is determined by how cultured you are and what influences you, French or English mostly! To the extent that neighboring countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast find more rapport with France or England, their colonial masters, rather than each other. America rules the world through its culture of music, film, Arts, fashion, etc, not through wars. Culture is an important tool of the foreign policy and engagement. It is more effective than guns

I’d like to talk about two other important elements in communication:

Propaganda: communication that intentionally attempts to persuade its audience for ideological, political, or commercial purposes. Propaganda often (but not always) distorts the truth, selectively presents facts, or uses emotional appeals

Gatekeepers: are the people who help determine which stories make it to the public, including reporters who decide what sources to use and editors who decide what gets reported on and which stories make it to the front page. Media gatekeepers are part of society and thus are saddled with their own cultural biases, whether consciously or unconsciously

Think through the impact of films like Rambo, Chuck Norris, Pearl Harbor, Snow white, etc. on the psychic of the globe. News agencies like CNN, BBC, Reuters, Aljazeera, etc do have an agenda, incase you are still cocooned from this fact. Perhaps their particular agenda is an article for another day. Most importantly to note however is that you cannot fault them for having an agenda. Their leaders understood the importance of having a mouthpiece so to speak.

As a continent, Africa can’t even manage one powerful, cross continent media agency. Many reasons have been given for this. Ranging anywhere between High barriers to entry, fragmented markets, lack of cohesion and resolve by regional bodies like ECOWAS, etc. lack of policy and framework; the list goes on. In the meantime, whiles we continue to blame everyone else for our problems, lets just remember that “If you don’t tell your story, someone will tell it for you… either-way, the story must and will be told…” – Juliet Asante


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