A vendor sells newspapers at an intersection in Johannesburg, South Africa. AP
It has long been a point of contention within many African communities both at home and abroad that coverage of Africa by Western news media is largely biased, if not fractured.

It’s a fractured view and image of an estimated one billion inhabitants of Africa, living in 54 nations; from the North, West, East, and Southern Africa.

The outcry has been consistent, with many Africans taking up opportunities to change perceptions about Africa with actions of various sorts. These actions include the drumming up of support to change behaviors towards Africans, the starting of media organizations that specialize in news coverage about Africa, commentaries, and books about the issue. The list goes on.

While this is the case, “One notable exception to the history of poor coverage of Africa is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), whose World Service has long maintained correspondents in most of the continent’s capital cities,” Laura Seay recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.

And there are many other great examples that can be cited.

Yet it appears discussion about the matter is never going to end, so long as media reporting about events in Africa continues.  What’s the big deal in all of this? Greater attention to issues about coverage of Africa and the need for more balanced Africa reporting seems to be driving the discussion.

So it is news that National Public Radio, aka NPR, is sending correspondent John Burnett to Nairobi, Kenya to beef up it’s reporting about the continent? Apparently, that is the story that NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist Arcton broke on the air when she joined Neal Conan on the popular afternoon discussion show Talk of the Nation, July 2. Burnett is currently a roving correspondent based in Austin, Texas.

“I’ve got a colleague, John Bennett, who is heading his way to – winding his way to Nairobi, Kenya. So there will be more of us covering the continent,” Quist-Arcton said.

Why is NPR doing this now, is the question? The answer is not immediately apparent. But don’t rule out the fact that critical complaints from curious listeners, like Matt whose email Neal Conan read during the program and to which Quist Arcton responded, may have prompted action on the part of NPR.

The discussion played out as follows:

NPR Neal Conan: “This email from Matt: Major news organizations, including NPR, have multiple correspondents for places like Europe and Asia, yet you are the sole correspondent for almost an entire continent. Why does Africa get so little attention? And does your wide area of responsibility make your job more difficult?”

Recently NPR announced that it has hired Edith Chaplin, formerly longtime CNN Vice President and Bureau Chief, to lead its foreign coverage.

“NPR has long distinguished itself with a dedication to foreign news coverage that steps outside the U.S. perspective to bring listeners dynamic stories of the world’s people, politics, economy and cultures,” the announcement said.

There is great promise in much of Africa.

Neal Conan framed the issue of coverage of Africa on Talk of the Nation, in a discussion with NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton as follows:

The subject was Africa’s Ongoing Militant Conflicts And Ethnic Feuds”

Question from Neal Conan:

“We must report on wars. We must report on political divisions and religious divisions, on ethnic divisions when it cause violence and dictate the futures of people, yet we continually hear reports of economic development in Africa. We continue to hear reports of Africa rising, of a new generation that is seeking new kinds of worlds that were unavailable to them ever before. That in the midst to all these problems, there is great promise in much of Africa.”

Response from Ofeibea Quist-Arcton

“And mea maxima culpa, Neal. I don’t spend enough time reporting about the positive developments that are happening in Africa. I mean, the creativity, invention, technology, and then you have countries like – which is next door to me, across the, you know, just across the water, Cape Verde, a country that has no natural resources. A lot of people will say, well, that’s why it’s blessed, because nobody’s fighting to enrich themselves with its natural resources, but a country that is – doesn’t have much, but is managing to push itself up through good governance and good leadership.

And I think that is probably one of our problems on the African continent, is that there’s too much poor leadership. That means the people remain poor, and who remain poorly led. But then you have Botswana, a country which is awash with diamonds, which is managing to make the Batswana, the people of Botswana, have a better life. Mozambique, not so very far away, countries where with reasonable leadership as well as, of course, civil society working hard, they are doing pretty well. But, of course, what gets the headlines? It’s the bad news stories. It’s the countries that are in conflict and the countries that have problems.”

The big news in all of this is, U.S. media does not spend a lot of time “reporting about all the positive development that are happening in Africa.”

Why does Africa get so little attention except during a disaster remains the question?


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