#takebackthepen: Experts say this is why African media outlets struggle to cover more African news
March 2021, Johannesburg – “Until we have much stronger and more vibrant sort of new media platforms that speak to these audiences in language and context that makes sense to them, it's very difficult to drive a new African narrative,” said Tomiwa Aladekomo. Aladekomo is the CEO of Zikoko Media, which gets six million hits every month on their website and social media.
He was one of 6 panellists at the Africa No Filter Presents: A Conversation About Who is Telling Africa’s Story webinar. He was joined by Jonathan Rosenthal, Africa Editor at The Economist; Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher & editor-in-chief of Premium Times Nigeria; Thebe Ikalafeng, Brand Leadership Group CEO; Vasantha Angamuthu, African News Agency (AMA) CEO; and Aguil Deng, Program Manager, Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa and Africa Corporate Philanthropy, Bloomberg.
They were unpacking findings from the groundbreaking Africa No Filter report, How African Media Covers Africa. While some findings were expected, like the fact that the BBC and AFP were responsible for ¼ of African news African media outlets tell about the continent, others were startling.
Consider this — less than 1% of stories in African media outlets were from African news agencies, and newsgathering sources on African countries resulted in content that continues to feed old stereotypes.
Furthermore, the quality of local journalism didn’t allow for nuanced and contextualised storytelling that is critical for telling stories about the 54 countries in Africa.
Even though 87% of the editors surveyed in the research said they were interested in covering African news, Angamuthu said one of the most consistent challenges faced by ANA was getting buy-in from more African media outlets.
“African content comes up often in our discussions with potential partners. The kind of responses we get leads us to believe that African content is a nice-to-have rather than a must-have,” she said, citing affordability as one of the biggest stumbling blocks in taking Africa’s pen back from the hands of the western media.
“It’s difficult from a financial perspective for most of our newspapers, radio stations - for the media as it were - to be able to meet up to the challenges of effectively covering both their nation and the African region of their audiences,” Olorunyomi added.
There’s also the fact that 70% of media brands admired by Africans are not African at all, according to the Brand Leadership Group’s Brand Africa 100: Africa's Best Brands annual report. They include CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera.
The impact on who gets to set the continent’s news agenda is far-reaching, Rosenthal explained. “Take Nigeria. You can have a hundred columnists writing articles that are critical of the Nigerian government, and in a sense, many in Nigeria will overlook them. But when The Economist comes out with a big piece that is perhaps critical of the president, it goes viral within Nigeria - everyone talks about it. There is power there,” he said.
Press freedom is another hurdle.
Rosenthal added: “There are journalists in Tanzania and Ethiopia right now that are not free to do their work, so we’re aware that we can have some positive influence. At the same time, we need to be very careful not to just fall into easy, lazy characterisations.”
More than the challenges facing media outlets on the continent, A Conversation About Who is Telling Africa’s Story was an opportunity to ask: how can the African media take back the pen?
Donor funding has proved to be effective, said Deng. Bloomberg has funded several media initiatives and storytellers across the continent, with more than 780 alumni across 19 countries. Panellists agreed that collaboration and ownership of stories, including at community level, are some of the keys to telling a variety of quality African stories.
Deng added: “There really is no shortage of pipeline in terms of talent. Africa has talented and highly skilled storytellers, reporters, editors and African news agencies. What this report highlights [are] issues about opportunity and access. That’s where funders have an important role to play.”
However, donor funding is not a long-term solution, Deng added. And this is where the rise of digital platforms like Zikoko Media come in. Where traditional media is “under threat”, Ikalafeng said, digital media is thriving. They are also doing what traditional African media needs to do to take back the pen.
“Stop complaining and start creating,” Ikalafeng said.
Watch: media experts and funders say this is how Africans can #takebackthepen
About Africa No Filter
Africa No Filter is a donor collaborative working to shift stereotypical and harmful narratives within and about Africa. Through research, grant-making and advocacy, our objective is to build the field of narrative change-makers by supporting storytellers, investing in media platforms and driving disruption campaigns. The donor collaborative is funded by Ford Foundation, Bloomberg, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Luminate, Open Society Foundations, Comic Relief, the Hilton Foundation and the British Council.
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Lerato Mogoatlhe: email@example.com