Trouble in the Newsroom: A brief overview of the state of African media

Nigeria finally has a new president and contrary to the predictions (and hopes in some cases) of western media houses the elections were relatively violence free – thank goodness. It’s a shame that such outcomes were expected but this trend set off a few alarms in my mind. I was slightly pissed to see that most news agencies covering the election results were from ‘abroad’ which in all honesty is not shocking. My main issue was that when I did find them in African/Nigerian owned media, with a few notable exceptions, if the quality of the information wasn’t questionable at best, it was lifted from other sites and unreferenced. I’m not saying that poor ethics in news is a purely african problem (News of the World and Fox News anyone) but would it hurt for those that are in the continent to be more credible?

Media in anglophone Africa, unlike that of our francophone counterparts who were stifled by their colonial administrations, got the chance to develop independently and got more control of press. Its evolution, sadly, is symptomatic of most institutions on our continent. From brown envelope journalism to lack of intellectual integrity, this industry is in a state of disarray. The Linda Ikeji-Aye Dee debacle scratched the surface on this matter but sadly the conversation didn’t take a turn in a direction that would change current trends. I don’t even need to go on about party-sponsored social media personalities. What did it for me was seeing a Wole Soyinka article I had just read on The Guardian, copy-and-pasted word for word mind you with no reference to the original source or author on an online news magazine whose mission statement, and I shit you not, stated that it was “created to bring about more professionalism in online journalism”. Is that so?

What all these issued have in common is that they make me question a) the credibility of the organization and by de facto b) the credibility of the information. The bribery of the brown envelope journalism posed an obvious moral impasse: one can pay for the version of the truth they want. The intellectual laziness of the copy-and-pasting on the other hand reveals more fundamental issues. As the journalistic equivalent of chew-and-pour studying, it shows a lack of analytical skills. That kind of journalist/columnist is really just pushing someone else’s agenda with no thought as to whether he supports their rationale. If you put no real pride in your work to begin with, selling your platform to the highest bidder isn’t that far a step. In the true spirit of mimicry, some go as far as copying formats or presentation style down to font colour. Sure, there may only be so many ways to organize news sites but I can only come across so many sub-standard ripoffs to come to the conclusion that imitation isn’t always flattery. Most importantly for me though, it exposes the lack of a fact checking and proper referencing culture.

Those of us who intend to or already work in mass media don’t just report what is happening in our communities, we analyse events and culture, contributing to the formation of public consciousness on a range of complex issues and public figures. We then owe it to readers to provide them with accurate, well supported and relatively unbiased information. The dangers of unsubstantiated stories become more obvious in tense situations such as seminal elections; they conjure unnecessary animosity. I’m sure everyone saw their fair share of shit-stirring-enemy-of-progress articles. We media workers should consider our role as the new griots and talking drums of our communities. We can’t always cry foul when the west paints our continent with whatever colours suit their narrative at the time if we are doing no better to ourselves at home.

We spent most of the past months demanding accountability from our leaders so we too should uphold ourselves to those same rigorous standards, regulate the media not for conformity but for quality assurance. Well informed conflicting points of view should be encouraged – I’m a firm believer that truth lies in the synthesis of opposites. I commend those who continually push for original voices, content and analysis in new and old media and offer platforms for legitimate discussion, these will become crucial spaces as our societies continue to evolve.

Originally published on The Naked Convos.

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