Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The (other) big election

Posted in International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 28, 2008

Thanks to E.K. Bensah for reminding me of another big vote taking place before Christmas.

Yes, with seven days to go all eyes are on the upcoming US elections. But I’ll also be following Ghana’s vote in December.

Unlike the yanks, Ghana has no less than 8 candidates for president ranging from Prof. John Atta Mills to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

And whatever you might think of elections on the African continent, the website of Ghana’s electoral commission suggests this is a poll sat firmly in the 21st century.

From my own experience covering a tiny by-election there way back in 2003, people take politics really seriously!

Still it’ll be sad to see the back of John Kufour, possibly the world leader with the deepest voice!

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A fresh lick of paint…

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, International Development, News and that by Adam Westbrook on October 6, 2008
A fresh lick of paint

A fresh lick of paint

So this blog has been running now for just over two years in its current form and I decided it’s high time for a redesign.

I’ve chosen a new look (aptly named The Journalist) although I’m not entirely sure of it yet. I’ve also reorganised my articles, the older ones of which were first written before tagging. I’ve deleted all the categories which had run into the hundreds, and replaced them with four simple ones for easy searching:

Adam: for any posts about me (thankfully few and far between)

Broadcasting and Media: for any news/comment about the broadcasting and news industry

International Development: for anything on Africa, foreign affairs, human rights and poverty

News and that: for those spur of the moment posts which happen when I find a funny video on Youtube.

So, two years and this site has been looked at just over 28,000 times which is nice.  The most popular article is still one of the earliest, a random comment on Ghana’s homosexuality laws which clearly shows up on google searches for dating sites! Also inexplicably, a post about coverage of the French general election in 2007 is the second most popular.

And in terms of what I’m churning out, “Broadcast Journalism”, “Journalism” and “The World” are the biggest tags (see right over here –>)

My student blog Adam Meets World still exists (thanks to Warwick Uni for keeping it up)-that dates back to 2004. I’ve also started a new blog to track my attempts to go green – it’s called One Man’s Battle With His Own Apathy.

Is anyone reading it? Who cares, I like writing it.

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.

“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…

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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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.

Kenya’s Mobile Revolution: a film you need to watch

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on January 6, 2007

Now I try and keep an eye out for these sort of things, and I haven’t found a genuinely surprising and stereotype-overturning piece about anywhere or anything in Africa since the excellent Inside Africa films I blogged about ages ago.

In fact the only people out there fighting Africa’s corner are the armies of bloggers like E.K. Bensah and Sociolingo – if you read their blogs (and I strongly urge you to do so) you’ll see a different side to the continent; a far cry to the famine, disease and war western newspapers and broadcasters would often have us believe.

Which is why it’s such a great surprise to see “Kenya’s Mobile Revolution” coming up next week on Newsnight on BBC 2 in the UK.

As part of BBC Newsnight’s Geek Week 2.0, they’re showing a film made by their tech reporter Paul Mason. He travelled to Kenya to see how mobile phones are literally changing every aspect of people’s lives.

Mobile Phone in KenyaTwo mobile phone companies have created an 80% network coverage of the country – which I’m sure is better than in the UK! – and even the Maasai nomads in the Rift Valley are texting each other. Even more, mobile operators are pioneering services yet to appear in Europe, like being able to send someone else cash with your mobile.

More and more people are getting them and Paul Mason reckons the mobile could be a democratising tool in a country where the ruling elite’s rife with corruption.

It’s beautifully shot, insightful, and crucially Mason answers the big question for us: “so what?”

When I was last in Ghana back in 2003, I noticed people were using mobiles; hawkers sold mobile phone covers on every street corner. Ironically, I refused to take a mobile phone out there, but if I had, I would have had constant coverage.
So if you’re in on Monday night, watch it. If you’re not, Sky + it. But being the techno-savvy lot you are, I’m sure you’ll watch the online preview now available. It’s 18 minutes long but well worth it.

Click here to watch the online preview

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Damned by debt relief

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on November 5, 2006

This week I came across a charity called WORLDwrite who, among other things, recruit volunteers to make films as a way of fostering global understanding.

They’re touring UK universities to promote a new 28 minute documentary called Damned by Debt Relief which puts a compelling case that the G8/Live8 extravaganca of 2005 didn’t do all it promised.

The documentary was shot in Ghana by a group of WORLDwrite volunteers; Ghana was one of the so-called “HIPC” (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) that had it’s debt cancelled as a result of Gleneagles and “I hate Mondays”. What we weren’t told was all the strings that came attached, that some say, has made the situation worse.

It would appear that the idea of helping poor countries to help themselves has been forgotten and western governments still insist on telling poor countries how they should spend their money.

After living in Ghana for a while in 2003, I’m unabashedly in love with the country; I left feeling that although there was great poverty in places, it is still a modernising country, stable, peaceful, with a bourgeoning middle class and ambitious young people, like the audacious and witty E K Bensah.

Obviously there were some things I missed – see this NYTimes article on child labour in Krete Karachi (on the northern shores of Lake Volta) where I’ve been, but didn’t notice well enough.

Next March is Ghana’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. It was the first country in Africa to gain independence from Britain, so I reckon it’s a big deal. Ideally I’m hoping to go back briefly next year (money permitting), possibly with a camera in hand to see how Ghana stands on the brink of fifty.

And in contrast to all the negative, patronising publicity HIPCountries get too often, Ghana was recently surveyed as the 10th happiest country in the world – above both the UK and the US. So something’s going right!

I’m going along to the next WORLDwrite meeting in a couple of weeks to find out more – I’ll fill you in. In the meantime, watch a shortened version of their Damned by Debt Relief video – it’s a very interesting 3 minutes 30.

More biased coverage

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 12, 2006

From AFP (French Press Agency):

200 leading journalists gathered in a recent conference in Johannesburg, and agreed that western media do not grant Africa fair coverage, failing to report positive economic and democratic news. “Every time a country like South Africa is reported internationally, we are reminded about escalating crime and diseases such as HIV and AIDS,” said Tim Modise, a presenter at Johannesburg-based South African 702 Talk Radio.

A confirmation of the fact that the coverage of African stories needs to be enhanced, can be seen in the recent decision of major international media organizations to have a more significant presence in the country.  Zafar Siddiqi, chairman of CNBC Africa, an affiliate of the US NBC, said he is planning two new offices in South Africa, and others across the country. Al Jazeera announced the same intention, and offices will be opened in Abidjan, Cairo, Harare, Johannesburg and Nairobi.

 

More proof of what I’ve been saying for ages. But it’s a problem that we’re not seeing any attempts to correct bar, perhaps, this conference earlier in the year.

In April I wrote about a Commonwealth Broadcasting Association survey into whether television was reflecting the real world and my conclusion was something along the lines of:

News producer need to be more creative in the stories they find, reporting the good and the bad, in new and original ways that are more reflective of the continent, as well as the rest of the developing world.

And producers from other genres must broaden their horizons. The survey has found that audiences do want to see more from the outside world, but they’re tired of the same repetitive formats.

Good to see Al-Jazeera will be boosting it’s Africa coverage when it finally launches later this year.

The solution isn’t simple, but I’d be really interested in what bloggers in Africa think…do you think British/American/European media outlets reflect your world accurately? Make some noise!

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