Taming Western Media: Barriers of Faith?

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With all the uninvited attention steered upon the continent’s various obstacles during the year, one thing has become evident; western media outlet race to condemn whatever the irregular phenomena are in the landscape but have a bias towards how to report them. Recently while conducting his usual BBC primetime show, HardTalk, host Stephen Sackur landed in Harare, Zimbabwe to forecast on the ground realities and the unfolding conundrum. However, this particular episode caused discontent in the nation and its residents of how he selectively chose to represent inaccurate facts about the country’s tourism.

Zimbabwe’s continual round of woes and crisis is by now notoriously mourned and known but that is not the issue at hand. The issue is how western media chooses to portray this collapse in a format that did not seem acceptable to its residents or to certain sects of the audience. There needs to be a clear distinction in how matters are distinguished between reporting on pressing issues and churning in blasphemy in vanity. Sackur’s concentration on the economic catastrophe zoning in may have been the entry point into delving into the devastation the nation faces but as the episode progresses, we see an unusual tone and turn of events. With hurling accusations such as the inefficiency of Zimbabwe’s tourism industry to curb local climate and nature, Sackur went on to proclaim that the iconic Victoria Falls would be enough water supply for the rest of country in this time of dire emergency.

Expectedly, viewers were not please by this assertion. By implying there is an endangered trend of environmental decline, particularly in the region of the tourist attraction, local visitors and residents expressed concern over the way it has caused such anxiety over the destination. Reports of Zimbabwe’s decline has been grabbing global headlines but there is no excuse for mitigating fear on commercial channels to ascend to international media coverage. The African image has no longer demanded a homogenous trailer attached to it showcasing malnourishment, poverty, violence and disaster. Yet we still see modern western media platforms come up with agendas that misinform viewers on the actuality of these affairs. What we see is a decline in human condition as a world wide occurrence; so only highlighting African circumstances, which has visible post-colonial and authoritarian symptoms only distressing further probabilities of prosperity and independence.

This simply presents us with the timeless tale of the ‘west/rest’ dilemma into ownership. By simply containing African problems as soul stirring and solely presented by the western media becomes exploitative and unethical to the bar. The purpose of faithful journalism is committing to the cause of exposure and dedication to current affairs but some of the strand of western media now focus on pity mongering and anxiety provoking exaggeration. Not to say that the conditions of some African countries remain in a constant grip of terror, poverty and collapse. But these are not for viewership or for a decorative manner in the global hierarchy. These are realities that ordinary people face which have no direct consequence to elitism. There is inequality in access and information that increases the chances of false reporting and  exaggeration. The politics of ethical reporting not only represents the fallacy of reliability in modern media but the multitude of social, economic and political factors attached to harnessing sustainable communities.

There needs to be ownership over individualistic story telling and documenting. It has become a commercial art from to record stories of the supposed ‘voiceless’ yet it is in fact counterproductive to intrude authenticity in the name of discovery. African countries continue to face discomfort and indignity over competing on the global stage furthering them into unwanted exile to due to domestic dissonance. This pushed upon narrative of the continent being an ‘outcast’ is perpetuated with the numerous amount of blasphemous and unimportant observations made by the western media. Whether it is uncontested statistics or ridiculous language, there needs to be some level of surveillance and clearance over what is the ‘truth’ and not. This does not barr the viewer from understanding the predicaments at hand but allows them to choose for themselves instead of imposing an unnecessary pre-conceived notion on the matter.

The recent HardTalk segment was visibly uncomfortable as the host travelled to the poor peripheries of Harare to ‘find answers’ and left us with daunting questions of uninterrupted western autonomy over African grief. And it becomes clearer, we need more of our own detailing our realities.


Sumona Bose is a MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town. She has an undergraduate studies in Political Studies and International Relations and my Honours in International Relations.