Western media coverage of Africa is still skewed and still projects Africa in terms of "disasters, its evil men" and as a "backward continent."
In an interview with The Herald, veteran scribe and editor of the London-based New African magazine Baffour Ankomah says the Western media has not moved even an inch in its portrayal of Africans.
"No, no, there is no change at all especially when it comes to reporting of events in Zimbabwe," he says. "It's like a leopard (Western media), they will never change their spots. They still carry their Fourth Estate of the realm role.
"The state is carried by four pillars - the executive, the judiciary, the legislature and the media. British journalism follows the flag. . . the government lifts the flag and everyone follows.
"The role assigned to the media is to help the government in power to keep the ruling class from the masses. The state does not permit the media to give the masses all the facts. They will keep the large chuff and let minute chunks get to the people," Ankomah says.
He cited the latest case of bombings that hit London, which the British government immediately blamed on terrorism and the Al Qaeda network and which the British media unquestioningly took in "hook, line and sinker."
"The media took the government lead and never linked it to the war in Iraq. It was Galloway (George, British MP) who brought it (case of young Britons blowing themselves up because of the war in Iraq) into the main arena for debate. All the time they blamed Al Qaeda and terrorism for the London bombings," he says.
During a debate in the House of Commons in July, Galloway said he was more persuaded than ever that the British parliament was out of touch with reality.
"They have absolutely no grasp of the gravity of the situation or how unpopular their stand has become outside these walls," he said.
He said American and British boys conscripted by poverty, unemployment and poor opportunities have lost their lives as a result of the pack of lies that was the case for the invasion of Iraq.
Ankomah says the British public is often misled into thinking that the bombings were masterminded by the Al Qaeda network and not by events happening in Iraq.
He says it is the same in which the western media still feeds on the negative aspects of events happening in Africa.
"Because of the underlying factors (national interest, national security, government lead) the western media will not change its focus on issues in Africa," he says. "It is not helping Africa investment-wise even tourism-wise. Who will want to invest in a place portrayed as having famine, disease and wars?"
Ankomah still feels strongly that the western media; in particular the British media, is guided by what he calls a "10-point unwritten code."
- national security
- government lead
- ideological leaning
- advertisers and readers' power
- fourth estate of the realm role
- following the flag
- reporting into a box
- historical baggage
When it comes to reporting on Africa, he says, the historical baggage refers to the "21st century view of Africa infected with the prevailing wisdom of the 19th century" when Europeans regarded the African continent as backward and inhabited by, at worst savages and at best, unintelligent and cruel people.
In an article he wrote in 2002, Ankomah says national interest is by far the most important factor that determines whether a story is printed or rejected and what spin or page is given to it.
"It is also on national interest grounds that the western media work closely with their intelligence agencies by either running stories ghosted by intelligence agents or getting leaks from intelligence agencies that then appear in print as investigative journalism," he said.
"National interest is also responsible for the lack of serious questions being put by the western media to their leaders such as: "If weapons of mass destruction are bad for the world, why are we keeping ours? Or, when President Bush said at a White House Press conference: "We don't recognise the Zimbabwe election, because it was flawed," everybody watching the Press conference must have expected the journalists to ask the President: "Didn't we recognise your election, yet it was flawed?"
This, he said, is something that African journalists and Zimbabweans in particular have to learn very fast.
When a BBC reporter was about to interview him at the just ended Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare, he said to the BBC reporter; "I thought the BBC was not allowed in here."
The BBC reporter had difficulty in responding to this: "I'm the only reporter left here." He quipped.
The BBC reporter failed to acknowledge the fact that Reuters, AFP, AP, Xinhua and other news agencies still operate in Zimbabwe despite the perceptions that they are "banned" in the country.
Reporting into a box, Ankomah says, refers to how the British media report into a box which contains preset ideas while "Fourth Estate of the Realm Role" ensured the media played a "sieve's role" in ensuring that only news that did not impinge on national security gets through.
But how has the New African survived in view of the power of advertisers and readers who play a critical role in its survival?
Advertisers who wield too much power are known to routinely pull out their adverts or withdraw advertising as a whole if they don't like the stories being published or when they differ with the editorial stance of a paper.
Readers can do the same by stopping subscriptions or stopping buying a copy of the paper.
"Last year we thought we would go down. It was bad," says Ankomah explaining the difficult moments his magazine went through owing to his pro-African stance.
"Without advertising you can't survive. Zimbabwe has been one main issue that has led us to lose advertising revenue but there is no way I'm going to allow myself to be used as a pawn.
"There is no difference between what happened to Nkrumah in 1966 and what is happening in Zimbabwe now," he said drawing parallels to Ghana under the late founding President Nkrumah and Zimbabwe under President Mugabe who both faced the wrath of the west simply for challenging their domination.
"At New Africa, where I have been working for the past 17 years and where I have been editor for the past 6 years, I know that for the past five years since Zimbabwe's land issue blew up, western advertisers do not want to advertise with us because they claim we report African issues too strongly," he says.
"Mercedes Benz withdrew its adverts from New African immediately after our issue of May 2000 hit the streets with a front cover headline: Land issue, Mugabe is Right.
"Only last week, we held a review meeting to discuss the future of the magazine. I heard from our advert manager that in 2002 when we began serialising a Blue Book that the British government had ordered to be written in 1916 about German atrocities in Namibia, how they wiped out the Herero and Nama, a book that had been destroyed in 1926 because when Germany was being rehabilitated after the First World War, it protested that the book was an affront not only to Germany but to the whole white race.
"But in 2002 we got a copy of the few remaining copies of the book and began serialising it. Then DHL decided not to advertise in New African because of that serialisation. So I asked the advert manager, why DHL?
"What have they got to do with Namibia? The advert manager told me that the trouble New African has is coming from mainly British and American companies who do not want to advertise with us. And these people happen to be the most vociferous in preaching human rights to Africans.
"Where is the human rights of the African in Namibia if he is not to know how his ancestors were wiped out by the Kaiser and his soldiers? He asked.
So where is Africa in all this?
Ankomah says there is need to conscientise journalists in Africa in all this game.
Other scholars have written extensively about how the Western media perpetuates negative stereotypes about Africa.
In his book, 'The Hearts of Darkness: How White Writers Created The Racist Image of Africa', Milton Allimadi challenges and assaults the myths about Africa without romanticising the continent.
He traces how Europeans peddled negative stereotypes about Africa from the 19th century when travel writers tended to exaggerate tales about Africa to make them appealing to the present time when Zimbabwe is being demonised for having embarked on the land reform programme.
"It only takes a few seconds for America to convince the world that Africa is bad, whilst it might take another solar eclipse in Zimbabwe for Africa to do the same," wrote one critic in a local daily.
Perhaps, Africa has to develop its own sophistication to be able to tell its own story to counter the "if it bleeds, it leads" approach of the western media which has seen the western media feeding on issues of unemployment, poverty, famine, wars, Aids and "bad leaders" undermining the complex and intricate political discourse going on in Africa.http://allafrica.com/stories/200508050476.html