Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

“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…

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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.