Major Initiative to Change the Way Americans See Africa

Major Initiative to Change the Way Americans See Africa

New study reveals Americans seldom see positive mentions of Africa on popular television shows or in the news.

A  seminal report released today by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project reveals that Americans seldom see mentions of Africa or Africans on popular television shows or in the news; and when they do, the portrayals are often negative and stereotyped.

The Africa Narrative is a global initiative harnessing the power of the arts, media and entertainment, business, education and philanthropy to engage the world in new stories of Africa. The initiative is based at the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, in partnership with Criss Cross Global, an international communications consultancy. The initiative will broaden awareness of the region and its 54 nations through research, communications campaigns and collaborations with partners from Africa, the US and around the world. Africa in the Media is the inaugural research project, with an initial focus on measuring US media depictions of the continent
and their impact on US attitudes and engagement with the region.

Although a 2015 global Pew survey revealed that Africans were among the world’s most optimistic about their economic prospects, Africans and experts of the region argue that Western news and entertainment media still focus predominantly on disease, poverty, corruption, famine, armed conflict and stories about Westerners who appear as saviors. This despite the fact that African innovation, entrepreneurialism, music, fashion, art and a new generation of creators, innovators and business leaders are increasingly making their mark on the world stage.

Recognizing that media can greatly influence the way people form opinions, The Africa Narrative seeks more balance, diversity and nuance in Africa storytelling that does justice to realities of the continent and its 54 countries. As a first step toward that goal, Africa in the Media aims to understand African depictions and ultimately their impact on African tourism, trade and investment.

Researchers at the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project conducted a major content analysis that involved some 700,000 hours of television news and entertainment and 1.6 million Twitter posts over the month of March 2018. These were monitored for mentions of Africa, African, or the names of any of the continent’s 54 nations. Content was analyzed for a range of factors designed to reveal not just the number of Africa mentions but also their content and tone. Partners from Brands Eye, a global opinion mining company, analyzed the tweets for their sentiment. Results confirm the argument that Africa is mostly ignored and widely stereotyped in the media when it does appear.


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