The art of journalism has been around for eons. It is what keeps society going through verified gossip. Without journalism, the world would be a very boring place to be. Journalism keeps people going and society vibrant and knowledgeable.
The earliest known journalistic product was a news sheet that circulated in 59BC in ancient Rome known as the Acta Diurna, which recorded important daily events such as speeches by senior public officers. It was published daily and hung in prominent places. Today it is different, most journalism is through research on subjects that were initially not reported on but which make news today.
The art of journalism has gone on as a mere conduit for news with newsgathering maintaining its traditional approach to news gathering underpinned by the archaic view that news is “when a man bites dog and not when the dog bites man”; unless the dog bites the elites in society will it be a story.
According to Malawian journalist, communications, and media researcher, Dr. Levi Zeleza Manda, there is a need for a paradigm shift in how the media reports events in Africa and on Africans. The long-held stereotypes that tend to debase Africans and use Africans as an excuse for what is happening elsewhere on the globe can be changed by the African journalists themselves, if only they look at solution-based and constructive journalism, and change the mindset on what they perceive reporting to be.
A similar view is held by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan who argues that in fact, Africa is not poor; that Africa is rich, and that it is the stereotypes and the way in which the media reports on Africa that depicts the continent as poor. Speaking at the recent World Press Freedom Day held in Arusha, Tanzania, President Samia countered the narrative that Africa is food insecure. She asked journalists why they have peddled the same narrative that the continent is a dark hopeless continent.
“We are rich. We have natural resources. We have dense forests that are helping the world as carbon sinks. We have cultivable land where we can grow our crops organically. We must begin to appreciate ourselves and our wealth and to report objectively.”
Taking the example of the lifestyle of the Maasai, President Samia said that a Maasai who owns a large herd of cattle is very wealthy. “It is how being rich or poor is determined by other people using their own standards that make Africans look poor,” she contends.
President Samia argues that the notion that Africa is food insecure and poor is fallacious. She believes that for a continent that still produces organic food, the continent is rich. She says if the value of organic food, when sold at the supermarket, is more expensive, meaning that if the value of such food was taken into consideration, it would be much more expensive than that sold in western stores. Another example she used is that of the hunters and gatherers who are said to live on less than a dollar a day. President Samia said that such people feed on honey and fruits, which she said have a higher value than the food that is purported to be taken by the affluent.
President Samia reminded African journalists to have at the back of their minds that Africa has values, norms, and cultures that have always guided the people; hence, the need to guard against the wholescale copying of foreign ideas. “We as Africans have cultural values and norms, and we as Africans must guard them,” she said.
Back to Dr. Levi Manda, his contention is that reportage in Africa needs to be solution-based, and show the “how-to” so that the recipients of the information are able to make workable decisions based on a good story in the sense of it being an objective story.
He says that human interest stories are capable of changing negative perceptions especially when the story is about finding a way out of a depressing situation. For instance, is it true that Africa is food insecure? Is it true that Africa is ravaged by disease? Now, if indeed this is true, how come the African population is still growing and healthy? There must be something that is being done right and which has been negated only by journalists and others concentrating on the negative.
Judith Akolo is a Development Journalist working with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.