Is the global north media racist in the way its writes about Africa? We were privileged recently to be involved in some new research conducted by the campaigning organisation, Africa No Filter, that looked at how Africa is portrayed by international media. The findings were shocking and left me in no doubt that much of the international media certainly suffers from unconscious bias that could indeed, at times, lead to racist journalism.
The Black Lives Matter movement has pulled many in the media up short, to reflect on how they report black culture, issues, and experiences. Well, Africa Matters and it is time the world’s media recognizes its unconscious bias and acknowledges the consequences of continually portraying a one-dimensional narrative of Africa that is all too often unrelentingly negative.
There are notable exceptions such as The Financial Times, The Economist, CNN, and BBC World that have a commitment to present regular, balanced stories about the continent. But for much of the world’s media, there is little interest in stories about Africa unless they are in the crisis, war, corruption category; or are tales from the realm of exotic stereotype, such as monkeys cutting off power supplies or lions wandering the streets of Nairobi.
Of course, the continent has serious problems. Where in the world doesn’t? But it also has stories of outstanding economic, social, and cultural growth and advancement. Nobody wants politically correct censorship, and it is critical that the media continues to challenge, probe, and hold governments and others in positions of power to account.
My appeal to the global media is to keep generating that investigative, challenging work, but also to be curious about the continent’s positive progress and growth story. To look at Africa in three dimensions; and often. Not once in a blue moon.
It is not just feelings and confidence that are hurt by biased reporting. Whole economies and the financial well-being of huge populations can be directly impacted. One of the consequences of blinkered reporting that we come across regularly is the headwind created that holds back investment. Foreign direct investment, business investment for growth and investing in African stocks are all be greatly suppressed by monotone media reports about Africa that show a glass always empty, let alone half full.
It is striking that a significant proposition of the financial media outside the continent, writing for investors interested in Africa, do not fully understand the dynamics of the region. Writers seem unaware and uninterested in the jaw dropping growth rates; African created innovations in fintech, renewable energy and agribusiness that leave the global north running behind; and a private sector that thrives despite protectionist regulatory environments that often seem to have been designed specifically to inhibit international and even national business development.
This is more than lazy journalism. This is biased reporting. Whether that bias is unconscious or deliberate, its impact can often be malignant and materially harmful. Africa’s story is best told by Africans and the international media has a responsibility to listen to Africa’s people and report the full story, not just edited lowlights. We need a conscientious effort from the international media community to show solidarity and give Africa the unbiased, unfiltered, balanced, and open-minded reporting it deserves.
Written by Chris Genasi