The representation of Africa in Western media has been a cause for debate and concern for decades. It has become a well-known fact that Africa’s media image usually consists of famine, disaster or conflict (to the background music of Band Aid’s ‘Feed the World’: ‘there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas T-i-i-ime’). These images are related to global imbalances in media flows, which in turn is the result of an unequal distribution of media power – in short, the powerful global media are owned and managed by big conglomerates based in the global North whose main aim is making money. And bad news sells – especially if it’s about that dark continent far away from Western civilisation. This imbalance was attacked at UNESCO in the 1970s-80s by proponents of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), who sought to create a more equitable global information order. (In the end the USA spoiled all the fun, not surprisingly)
Fast forward to 2008, where the internet and new communication technologies have created new opportunities for media in Africa and the developing world to circumvent big media behemoths. Of course these opportunities should be viewed circumspectly – internet access is still very limited and unequally distributed on the continent – but African bloggers, media activists and civil society have already adopted these technologies with great success (see the older post about blogging in Kenya during the post-election violence there last year).
Now a 38-year old Kenyan journalist, Salim Amin, is planning to use the web as a platform for a new news agency, A24 Media. The agency will seek to tell the African story from the African perspective by using a web portal to promote the work of African journalists and broadcast producers. The aim is to sell the stories produced by these journalists to African television stations but also in Europe, North America and the Middle East.
“Africa can only be covered by Africans,” Amin, told the South African Mail & Guardian, “[there is a story] beyond the starving children with flies in their eyes, beyond executions and genocide. Ours is a new and balanced agenda.”
It sounds like a great idea, as long as the agency does not fashion itself as a PR company intent on only showing the good, but also critically engaging with the ugly. Fingers crossed that the launch goes well (the website is still under construction), and that the journalism showcased there will tell the full, textured story of Africa today.