Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Accra Aid conference: “priorities need to change”

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2008
Can we halve poverty by 2015?

Can we halve poverty by 2015?

I haven’t written about development issues for ages – but last week’s Aid Effectiveness conference in Ghana is a good place to wade briefly back in.

Held in Accra, it was designed to find ways of making aid from developed countries have more impact in the countries they’re supposed to be helping.

Three years after the Paris Conference – where 100 countries agreed to do more to sort this out – it is still a huge problem.

Countries like the UK, France, Italy and America all promised to donate more cash – but shamefully they’re not making good on their promises.

“In simple terms” says Professer Jeffrey Sachs in an interview on Hardtalk, “the limiting factor holding back our progress towards the [Millennium Developement] Goals is the richest countries coming up with the money they have promised.

“We live in an age of cynicism and resistance, but we are not asking goverments to do anything they have not already promised. Some countries are delivering on their promises made in  2005 but where are France, Germany and Italy? If these countries are lagging then by far the biggest lagger is the US where we are committing only 0.17% of our income to development assistance.”

There’s only seven years left until we’re supposed to have reaced the Millennium Development Goals. At this rate that won’t happen.

Meanwhile blogger par excellence in Accra EK Benah was at the conference in Accra last week – check out his posts here.

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Current TV: Crisis in Kenya

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 17, 2008

Occasionally I get enough time to watch some Current TV.

It’s almost always worthwhile.

“Why don’t we promote the positive?”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, International Development by Adam Westbrook on May 6, 2007

Here’s a really interesting statistic, you probably didn’t know: 60% of all the people who access the BBC News Africa page via their mobile phones…do so from Nigeria.

Frontline logoIt’s just one of a whole host of interesting points to come out of a debate on how the media cover Africa at London’s Frontline Club this week.

And the big question that came out of it was: “why don’t we promote the positive?

Here’s another fact that proves the point: Zimbabwe has the continent’s worst economy. Inflation was at 1600% last time we all checked. And it get’s argubly the most coverage in the western media, alongside the conflicts in Somalia and Sudan.

And the country with the continent’s best economy? Angola – it’s growing massively. But when was the last time you saw an article on Angola in the western media? Well I’ll help you out a bit: June 16th 2006 was last time a specific article was published in the New York Times.  When was the last time you saw it on a TV news bulletin?

The debate was handed to an audience of journalists working from Africa and they raised some interesting points – here’s a summary:

  • Western media has a “soft touch” with Africa, born out of colonial guilt.
  • Most African newspapers are now online, so there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s going on.
  • Is there an Africa fatigue?
  • Western editors follow the news agenda like a flock of sheep – courageous editors and reporters are needed to break away and cover the uncovered.
  • We are failing because we’re not making African stories interesting to western audiences.
  • Is it time to help normal people in Africa tell their own stories?
  • And the most worrying point: “Nobody cares – editors don’t care.”

And the one thing I’d add to that myself is money. A problem in the eyes of coin counting editors is that it just costs too much to report on Africa. Maybe the answer might come from enterprising young multiskilled journalists going out with cheap kit and reporting it at a lower price? Who knows.
So is all news out of Africa bad news? For the most part yes – but then most news out of anywhere tends to be bad news. I definitely agree with the point that we’re not making it interesting enough and we’re not connecting stories from Africa to our own lives.

And with hundreds of western corporations investing in Africa, we are most definitely having an impact on the shaping of the continent. And not always for good.

There are many journalists and bloggers freelancing in Africa at the moment – I’d be interested to see what they think…

A sad ending to one of the internet’s weirdest stories

Posted in News and that by Adam Westbrook on May 3, 2007

It was one of the world wide web’s first true love stories. A love between the public and a story. The love between one man – and his goat.

a goatYes, in what I once described as a reason never to get rid of news editors ever, way back in September, the story of a Sudanese man marrying a goat after being caught doing a little more than milking it, became a big internet hit.

Sudanese man ‘forced to marry’ goat was published on BBC News Online well over a year ago. And naturally it became a regular feature on the site’s “most read” and “most emailed” section – an argument, in my eyes, that people shouldn’t really be allowed to decide the news.

And today, rather sadly, the news broke that the newly married goat has died, apparently after choking on a plastic bag.

In recent weeks the original story had shot back onto the “most read” section in what I thought was maybe a spamming website trying to piss the beeb off. But apparently not – it’s genuinely been a popular story. What impression people take away of Sudan, God only knows.

But suitably, to end this bizarre tale, todays news has held steady on the “most read” and “most emailed” chart. I think it will be there for a long time come.

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Happy birthday Ghana!

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on March 6, 2007

Ghana jubilee

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Ghana @ 50: a leading light?

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on March 5, 2007

Kids in AccraThe oldest independent nation in Africa, Ghana is – in my not very important opinion – a model for the rest of the continent to follow. A sound leadership, but backed by tangible credible democracy, and because of that a strong economy.

And best of all, peace. Whatever people say about the “gentle giant” John Kufour, he’s helped lead Ghana into an enviable lack of violence, discrimination or intimidation. And that’s in spite of sitting between two rather less peaceful neighbours – Togo and Cote D’Ivoire – and the ramblings of the old dictator Jerry Rawlings, who it still amazes me gets at least one newspaper front page a week. And this is backed up by some promising figures.

I was contacted this week by the World Bank believe it or not, who gave me some of their latest research on Ghana as she turns a golden fifty. They’ve concluded the following:

  • There’s been strong improvements in the business climate, political stability and press freedom.
  • Inflation’s decreased from 40% to 10% and the economy’s growing by around 6% a year, compared to 4% over the past 20 years.
  • Poverty’s down to 33.4%, from nearly 40% in 2000 and over fifty percent in 1990.

And most amazing of all:

  • Ghana may be able to halve poverty by 2015.

That would be a phenomenal acheivement – even Britain’s pretty poor on poverty, especially among children. The World Bank says it thinks the chances of Ghana becoming a middle-class country in the next few years as “high”. Accra street

That, I think, is down to the reasons above, but also many others. Not least the fact people in Ghana seem pretty unhappy unless they’re aiming big and changes are happening.

Check this article from BBC News’ Alexis Akwagyiram in Accra. It’s a report about a debate held between a government minister Frank Agyekum and a group of young Ghanaians. “Despite the air conditioning,” Alexis writes, “the minister is sweating”.

“Sitting amongst hundreds of young Ghanaians, the government spokesman is being forced to defend his administration’s record against a barrage of criticism. Issues ranging from corruption and economic mismanagement to the country’s education system are being held up as examples of failure.”

So despite amazing and unrivalled improvements over the past ten years, people aren’t satisfied. And that’s so important because it means complacancy will never set in. And the fact that a government minister can be held to account to without fear is almost unrivalled too:

“…most of the crowd, which consists almost entirely of people aged between 20 and 30, make it clear they disagree by murmuring and heckling.”

Ghana kings …there are some country’s where that kind of behaviour gets you in trouble.

The crowd were worried most about corruption and I seem to remember from my time in Ghana that was a problem – but tiny compared to corruption in Burkina Faso and Mali.

There are 25 heads of state plus delegates from 60 countries arriving for tomorrows jubilee celebrations. And I hope everyone else joins in as well…Ghana has a lot to celebrate!

The jubilee is here!

Posted in International Development by Adam Westbrook on March 4, 2007

Woman with ghana flagThis week marks fifty years since Ghana gained it’s independence from Britain. There’s celebrations going on all over the place in Ghana and the UK.

I’ll be writing as much as possible about it all this week, as well as trying to munch down on my first Ghanaian meal in four years.

And if you want to read all about it on the ground, check out EK Bensah’s brilliant blog.

Ochina!

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Keep it simple!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2007

Training to be a broadcast journalist is a bit like being taught a new language. When it comes to writing, you have to ignore all those rules you learned at school and university and the result is something between C++ and poetry.

One of the golden rules hammered into us is to keep things simple. And keep. Your sentences. Short.  Listeners and viewers can only take in a news report once. Even in the impending “on-demand” world, they’ll only want to take it in once.

So if you turn on the TV and radio you usually hear short sharp conversational sentences with all the fluff removed.

Usually.

Admittedly, Channel 4 News tries to be different. It aims to be a bit more creative, but from what I gathered from chief writer Felicity Spector when she came into City a few weeks ago, it still has to be concise.

So, what on earth is this all about?

It’s a report on the Chinese president’s visit to Africa this week, by the usually excellent Faisal Islam: ex City student and Channel 4 News‘ business correspondent. It’s an interesting piece, but check out Faisal’s first line (watch it here):

“The Chinese presidents twelve day tour takes in eight nations including Sudan the most controversial of the host countries where Chinas unconditional aid policy has angered western governments many of whom say Beijing should use its economic weight to end hostilities in Darfur.”

Say what?

It’s 43 words long. That’s nearly twice the recommended length of any sentence for broadcast.  It could be broken down into no less than four separate sentences:

“It’s a breakneck tour for China’s president: eight countries in a dozen days.

But Hu Jintao’s been criticised for visiting Sudan.

Western leaders want Beijing to use its economic muscle to end violence in Darfur.

Instead in its eagerness for ties with Africa China’s giving aid freely.”

Admittedly that’s not great either. But I think it’s easier to understand, and a bit more conversational.

But it goes to show that even with the best journos working for the best stations, the basic rules sometimes still get broken.

An underserved audience?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 11, 2007

“Griffin Park has never seen anything of this magnitude; the jubilation was incredible”

Ghanaians celebrating after beating NigeriaThat’s how people described Wednesday’s “clash of the titans” between Ghana and Nigeria. The world cup friendly saw the Black Stars – still high on their world cup success last summer –  “thrash” Nigeria’s Super Eagles 4-1 at Griffin Park.

But it seems the jubilation was short lived for any Ghanaians living in the UK. The African Voice newspaper on Friday reported outrage that the BBC had not mentioned the match the next day.
“BBC blasted over ‘biased’ broadcast” goes this week’s headline. The paper says there’s anger after BBC Breakfast did not show any highlights of the match on Thursday morning – even though it mentioned every other friendly match from the previous evening, including Portugal-Brazil and Denmark-Australia.  Says one Ghanaian in London:

“They showed the goals from all other matches but not the Nigeria against Ghana game. I was so angry.”

Chris Hollins apparently apologised on screen for not showing the footage; perhaps it was to do with rights or for time reasons. (The African Voice, interestingly, didn’t contact the BBC for a response.)

But it’s not quelled the anger.

As much as the story is a bit of a storm in a teacup it’s still raises interesting points. Read any BBC job application form and it’s all about reaching underserved audiences. Chris Hollins on BBC Breakfast

Well there are around 200,000 Ghanaians living and working in the UK. There are no official figures for the Nigerian counterparts, but I would suspect it’s the same if not greater.

There was equal demand for showing clips of this match as there was the Denmark-Australia game, and arguably more than for the South Korea-Greece one. If the reason was other than a practical one (rights/time) then the BBC’s made a mistake.

Reaching underserved audiences doesn’t just mean hiring local reporters with local connections. It needs the London based producers to open their eyes a bit more and be as equally understanding of Britain’s amazingly diverse communities.

A good start for Ban Ki-Moon

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2007

Three weeks in and the new Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon’s begun his first foreign tour. And he’s chosen Africa as his first stop.

Ban Ki-MoonToday he’s been in Kinshasa, the capital of a country which let’s just say had an eventful 2006. After months of wrangling, violence and uncertainty, elections were held in the D.R. Congo; the country can now justify the “democratic” part of its name.

Incombent Joseph Kabila won convincly with his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba joining the opposition…the country now seems on a more stable tack.

Addressing the Congolese national assembly today, Ban Ki-Moon hailed last years elections as a sign of hope for the country and urged law makers to start a “good governance pact” to see it continue.

After this, the UN Sec-Gen’s heading to the African Union summit in Ethiopia and meeting the not-so-applauded Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.

A good sign

To visit these countries first is a promising sign. It shows that Ban Ki-Moon’s serious about following his predecessor Kofi Annan’s commitment to peace on the African continent.

It would be easy for the South Korean to put more emphasis on problems closer to home, like the North Korean nuclear missile issue, but he’s made it clear that issue won’t take the spotlight off Africa.

And with Darfur still rumbling on, often without notice, Ban’s come at the right time.

Kofi AnnanBut we can’t get our hopes up too much. Africa was Kofi Annan’s mission too, taking his post in the raw years after the Rwandan genocide. And while victories for peace and progression have come in some places, like Liberia, Sierra Leone and D.R. Congo, Somalia only got worse and now Sudan’s in turmoil.

With so many concerted efforts gaining pace elsewhere to erradicate malaria and tackle HIV, Ban Ki-Moon needs to show he’s not all talk but a leader who can tie these threads together and really make change happen.
He’s got 10 years, starting from now.

Torture in Egypt

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2007

On Wednesday, the BBC Ten O’Clock News broadcast a report by their Egpyt correspondent Ian Pannell uncovering endemic torture in the country’s police cells.

A number of videos have starting appearing on the internet, the latest of which shows a man, under arrest, being sexually assaulted with a stick.

Ian Pannell’s report on Wednesday night contained part of this video. To say it is shocking is a massive understatement. Everyone in my flat fell silent when the piece was shown, and it’s been hard to forget.

But it’s caused a bit of a furore on the BBC Editors’ Blog this week. Opinion seems divided on whether it was right to show the video. Some were outright against it:

“I totally disagree with the display of the extremely disturbing pictures displayed on the news. The story was disturbing enough without the graphic images. We are cabable of understanding and believing a story without seeing it….I think the increase in graphic images of people in distress or killed in conflict and so on, on the news is a sad reflection of obsession with sensationalism…”

And some were OK with it:

“Good for the beeb to bring this to a wider audience. By dealing with it responsibly (and not focussing on the gruesomly sensationalist) it’s brought the shocking practice to light – and making people notice.”

The editor of the Ten Craig Oliver seems happy with his decision saying he believed they struck a balance between a need to show what happened “with concerns about exposing the audience to graphic images.”

Bodies in Bags
But should there be a need to strike a balance? I am totally in favour of the BBC reporting on this in the way it did. The role of journalism after all is to expose wrong doing and hold those responsible to account. Some moan that a British audience shouldn’t be exposed to an Egyptian problem, but hey – 700,000 Britons go on holiday to Egypt each year…feel like a holiday there now?

I don’t.

But it brings up the old issue of when is it right to show graphic images. When I spent a training day with the ITV news team last year we got to edit together a practice report about more deaths in Iraq using agency footage.

The 3 minute long tape from Reuters showed blood on the walls, bodies in bags, and distressed women and children.As young idealists we included lots of this – we felt we were telling the story truthfully. Our mentor was shocked and said the images we chose would never make it onto the evening news. It’s too upsetting.

But surely it’s the lack of images like these that have left the Iraq conflict sanatised and detached. All we take away are yet more deaths, more statistics and more burning tyres. And how does that help anyone? 

Click here to watch Ian Pannell’s report.

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Somalia: media clampdown

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 15, 2007

One of the perks of working at the BBC is that you get access to the latest news wires all day. Following the continuing events in war torn Somalia this week you realise the other perk is the freedom to work as a journalist without (much) pressure or threat.

As a journalist it’s sad to see the interim Somali government today closing four major media stations in the capital, Mogadishu.

“The statement which was issued just a while ago by the TFG’s [transitional federal government] National Security Agency ordered the closure of Shabelle, HornAfrik, Holy Koran, and Al-Jazeera stations in Mogadishu.” (Reuters)

It doesn’t take much to infer those stations are arab in origin.

It’s extremely sad that the Al-Jazeera office has been closed. Since December their correspondent has been filing excellent reports for AJE – the only broadcaster to the west with a sustained presence in the country.

Overall I think AJE’s focus on Africa is commendable and one of the highlights of the new channel. No response yet from Al-Jazeera or the CPJ…we’ll see if anything comes later this week.

Oh, and as an aside, if you get a chance try and watch Adam Mynott’s report on the Somali refugees fleeing to Yemen; a fine piece of package making.

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