Using the Ebola Crisis as a test case, I carried out a content analysis ofadjectives and sources used in the Nigerian coverage. I looked at six newspaper reports (7% sample) from The Telegraph and The Mirror, from July 20th 2014 to October 20th 2014. I then examined my findings using Galtung and Ruge’s twelve factors of News Worthiness.
From that exercise, I realised a 7% sample was insufficient for thorough analysis of an event that ran for 93 days, however sufficient enough for scoping and testing my hypothesis — Is the African voice suppressed?
This research is aimed at exploring: how and where Africans in diaspora access news on the continent.
Statistically there has been a general decline in consumption of news from the print media.
By way of background, international news began with William Russell, who reported the Crimean War for The London Times (Harrison, 2006:91). In recent years the CNN effect, a term which characterises the effects of globalisation on news, has meant that media coverage of news and events have grown to have enormous influence on government policies, locally and internationally.
Bakir cited that, “the rise of the internet in the 1990s, newspapers and television news lost their stranglehold on information, and even the well-established global form of news is undergoing challenges, given the millions of bloggers distributed globally.” For consumers, news has become increasingly accessible and free, noting that “Search engines perform a vital function in that they catalogue the web, and these catalogues are updated continuously to keep them current” (1990:193). As a result, consumers can now cherry pick news and share for free with likeminded people across the world within their networks.
But the digital divide (unequal access to global media), also means that not all consumers are having a good deal. Africans have seen conglomerates impose their culture, ideologies and values on their societies (cultural imperialism), as part of the effect of media imperialism, a process whereby the ownership, distribution and content of media in one country are subjected to substantial external pressures from the media interests of any other country, in this case, America and ex-colonial rulers (Bakir, 1990:206).
The impact of the mechanical press on paper was used by Downing and Husband (2005) to describe the damage caused by negative stereotyping in the minds of its victim, this sadly has been the culture of reporting on Africa by Western media, which is still prevalent today. Africans in diaspora are not immune as findings from the content analysis highlighted.
For Robert Picard (2010), news has never been a commercially viable product; many observers confuse short-term problems with long-term trends; shifting media use is at the heart of contemporary financial problems of journalism; and news enterprise can no longer sustain the large organisational structures and financing arrangements that were created during the age of abundant wealth. This coupled with change in consumption habits in most Western countries has led to a steady decline in business for news providers, leading to consolidation through reduction in resources and other cost-cutting policies. These conflict of interests has meant that the needs of Africans in diaspora are neglected as news providers uphold their commercial interest, leading to Market Censorship.
Convergence can equally be brought to the witness stand for: blurring the standards; dumbing down the quality of news; allowing market forces to decide news worthiness; and for upholding triviality and vulgarism (soft news) at the expense of hard news. Like the Trojan horse, entertainment now has a foothold over the media; as a result editorial priorities are either reflecting, or leading the media in some cases. Hence Stuart Allan cited Franklyn:
Entertainment has superseded the provision of information; human interest has supplanted the public interest; measured judgement has succumbed to sensationalism; the trivial has triumphed over the weighty; the intimate relationships of celebrities from soap operas, the world of sport or the royal family are judged more ‘newsworthy’ than the reporting of significant issues and events of international consequence. Traditional news values have been undermined by new values; ‘infotainment’ is rampant. (1997:203).
Methodology and methods
My mission was to find meaning, context and interpretation, hence the howand why questions in my hypothesis, therefore I deployed qualitative research methodologies for my inquiry. According to Strauss and Corbin (1998):
By the term qualitative research we mean any type of research that produces findings not arrived at by statistical procedures or other means of quantification. It can refer to research about person’s lives, lived experiences, behaviours, emotions, and feelings as well as organisational functioning, social movements, cultural phenomena, and interactions between nations. (1998:11).
On qualitative methods, Stern (1980) noted that they can be used, “to explore substantive areas about which little is known or about which much is known to gain novel understandings”, while Strauss and Corbin (1998) alluded that they are most effective when an inquiry requires the need to “obtain the intricate details about phenomena such as feelings, thought processes, and emotions that are difficult to extract or learnt about through more conventional research methods.” (1998:11).
Some examples of qualitative techniques include interviews, focus groups, participant observation, case study, textual analysis, semiotics and ethnography.
There are three types of interview techniques, namely: structured interviews, unstructured interviews and semi-structured interviews. Structured interviews are mostly survey styled, leaving no room for in-depth questioning as questions are already predetermined, it utilises a standard format, and questions are arranged in a specific order. Unstructured interview questions tend to be raised out of what is discussed, in other words the underlying discussion determines the course of the interview therefore making it free-flowing, giving researchers insight into who they are interviewing, and space to express emotions and feelings (reflexivity). It also allows the interviewee space to explore their thoughts on the subject, and to articulate them in their own vocabulary. Semi-structured interview is a mixture of structured and unstructured interviews. It provides researchers with a bit of both worlds, giving room for some pre-planned criteria and areas of discussion, as well as space for organic or natural development as the interview progresses.
I carried out a survey of 30 participants using survey monkey. 10 questions were developed, with the aim of gleaning habits and demographics. They consisted of a healthy mix of opened, closed, and multiple choice questions. Instructions were clear and easy to follow, my chosen layout was easy on the eyes, questions were short and clear, and most importantly, relevant to my audience. Respondents were given an overview of the project in advance, there were no inducements, and their anonymity and confidentiality protected.
In preparation for this process, I drew insight from Seidman’s view on interviewing research:
“Interviewing research takes a great deal of time and, sometimes, money. The researcher has to conceptualise the project, establish access and make contact with participants, interview them, transcribe the data, and then work with the material and share what he or she has learned… interviewing is especially labour intensive” (Seidman, 2013:11).
Researchers are advised to avoid “covering too many topics” and being hard pressed to cover everything planned during the course of the process (O’Reilly, 2005:14), in the same breathe the start “can be particularly significant in establishing nature and tone” of the interview. (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995:142).
From the verbal feedback I received from some of those who participated in the survey, two respondents were invited for a semi-structured interview. Ten leading questioned were adapted using Galtung and Ruges’sNewsworthiness with a view to assess if these values also informed how andwhere they accessed news about the continent.
Out of 30 respondents, 25 were female, (18/30) of African heritage, (10/30) were between the age brackets of 18–25, none was over 60, others were scattered in between these two age bands, and they all reside in England.
When asked their views on the sources cited or interviewed in news reportsthose that opted for the Other box left some really interesting comments: “This question is wishy washy views cannot be irrelevant”; “I cannot recall a report on which to judge the sources”; “sources are very biased”; “It depends on the topic”; and “sometimes relevant”. 13 of them did not think the views of sources were relevant of irrelevant; 6 thought they were irrelevant, while the rest thought they were relevant.
Responses to the question, what are you views on the adjectives used in describing events about Africa in reports, were in line with Downing and Husband’s (2005) view on news reporting about the continent by the West. 18 respondents (an alarming 60% of the sample) thought they were negative, (10/30) respondents thought they were neither negative nor positive, one thought they were positive, while another left this comment, “positive and a bit of negative on mismanagement of funds”.
12 claimed that they accessed their news via the internet, the same amount as those who opted for mainstream news outlets like BBC, ITV or Channel 4. 11 preferred News from Cable or Satellite networks like Al Jazeera, CNN, Fox, Sky; with comments from some about smaller African news providers like BEN TV, African voice TV, and ABN TV. Only 4 respondents relied on newspapers for their news, all 4 relied on freesheet, 2 also read broadsheet, and a further 2 were tabloid readers; others opted for radio and magazines.
In response to the question, how often do you read/access news on Africa,responses were as follows: 5 — daily, 5 — Weekly, 3 — fortnightly, 1 — monthly, and 11 — as and when.
These results served as prompts for further investigation in my interviews.
Firstly I observed that both interviewees portrayed an African identity, as to a national identity. For instance, the success of the recent Nigerian general election was raised by one interviewee of Rwandan heritage as something that hallmarked a new era for politics in Africa.
Politics came on top in terms of news value with one stating, “It is important for me to know how the countries in Africa are being ruled”. This came as no surprise because news about corruption, poverty, wars and famine always hit the headlines in reports on Africa. Human right and gender inequality also emerged, inspiring this statement:
Political and public policy relevance is vital to me to know what are laws and regulations that govern the country, the way they are applied could have effects on me and others in the country as whole. It’s by these policies we could identify if a country serves justice or not. For instance as a woman I need to know if I am entitled to vote or to be a candidate. There should be a law in place to support my views regarding this issue.
Reports on the economy and issues around debt and aids were described as “depressing” and “biased” as Africa has most of the mineral resources that powers Western economies, as such one stated, “the economic choice is an important one to me, currency is an essential tool in the world to know how a country is growing economically in terms of advancements, security reasons and business purposes.”. Another, “Economic relevance is important to know in Africa because its only growing.”. Related to the economy were social issues, “like health, housing, education, transport, jobs, the list goes on. Each of these, are relevant to me.” One going further to raise issues around fair trade, minimum wage, and fair wage.
In relation to cultural and media imperialism; African culture, diversity and similarities came up, inciting this comment: “My diversity interest is based on people’s opinions from different angles: in culture, the way of living, differences and similarities from different countries.” On news withimportance to society, an interviewee mentioned: “because I want to know how people in society are living their everyday lives. I am interested to know about the lifestyle of individual and what influences their life.” Another noted that news on “faith morality and ethics, are very keys points of life that concern every human being, these topics are my concerns as well. As some religious beliefs atimes clash with culture”.
On their favourite news sources and why, one interviewee stated RT News, while the other quoted a broad array which included BBC News, Channel 4; Al Jazeera, and smaller cable providers like LoveWorld TV, explaining that it was “because of worldwide news and reliability”.
Both interviewees had lost faith in mainstream newspapers, and they were fans of freesheets newspapers for general news, but not for news on Africa.
While convergence is damaging the news industry in most African countries, divergence is on the rise in West, as we see the market opening to smaller cable providers who are set out to cater for specific niche within the market. This includes faith, music, culture, sports, politics, lifestyle, movies, drama etc. The needs of Africans in diaspora are being addressed through these providers, posing new challenges to more established news providers.
This trend in divergence provides them with a broad array of choice, which comes as no surprise as my content analysis indicated that there was little or no competition in the quality of news reporting on Africa between newspapers in the UK, regardless of political inclination. However, I fear that this development might be arrested through acquisitions by conglomerates in their quest to increase their market share, and through brain drain in their bid to acquire new talents and programme ideas.
As well as internet sources, major news outlets like the BBC World Service and CNN have maintained their place in the hearts of Africans, with AL Jazeera emerging as new favourite, owing to the knowledge and expertise of their reporters, and their culture of applying historic and local context in their reporting.
In 1971 a budding Nigerian artist released an album entitled London Scene. In this album little known Fela Kuti had a 5:51 minutes track: Buy Africa, in which he highlighted the lack of a strong African identity. Using trade as a case study, he tells a story of how Africans would rather buy products produced by the West instead of theirs. He asked the following questions: who will buy our products, how can we generate revenue if we don’t buy our products?
Sadly his song landed on deaf ears at the time, but today, and without any support from governments or corporate institutions, afrobeat (a genre he pioneered), and Nollywood (the Nigerian film industry) have swept Africa. These industries have emerged organically from grassroots movements, and are now key drivers of the divergence revolution upon us.
Demand for afrobeat has seen the footprints of music producers like Wyclef and Kanye West already on the continent. Even TV channels, clubs and mainstream radio stations in the West have taken slices of this cake in varying measures.
With these developments, I’m optimistic. The African voice can no longer be suppressed.
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