By Tomi Oladepo
VENTURES AFRICA – Africa is not a country – so I hesitate to propose a sweeping panacea to the growing media pains of this great continent. It is however safe to suggest that each country has a pressing need for quality information, in depth and accurate analysis of socio-political and economic news events and most important of all, development-oriented communication.
The role of the media in any society is broadly to inform, educate and entertain. Suffice to say, that while this idea was once strictly aligned to traditional media such as print and broadcast, new media (blogs, twitter feeds etc.) through citizen journalism, manages to fulfill the criteria somehow, albeit obliviously and overboard sometimes. No one sets the rules or expectation for new media content - I am my producer and my consumer. Join me if you wish, says the blogger.
The tension between old and new media has a global elasticity that is to be expected. Every journalist universally wants to keep his job. A journalist in Cameroon, France, or Ireland does not want his job usurped by a smart-phone-wielding-twenty-something year old, who suddenly feels he has become a veteran journalist overnight simply because a media powerhouse found his lucky footage useful for a report.
I have however found that the context within which this old vs. new media tension occurs varies from Africa to the rest of the world.
Alex Jones in his book, Losing the News: The Future of News that Feeds Democracy, said, “It is an article of faith among journalists that what they do is essential to democracy… If news institutions cease to be trusted to be honest brokers of information, then politically unwelcome news will be dismissed as spin and bias. In such an environment the argument goes, a genuinely informed citizenry is replaced with an anarchy of half-truths, mis-information and propaganda.” He said, the kind of society that would emanate from the blogish-journalism take-over would be one that is overfed with information (due to millions of bloggers across the globe), but undernourished and headed towards an epidemic of social diabetes.
Jones was talking about the news in America, a place I can boldly claim has practiced the journalism profession the way it is meant to be, or at least impressively tried to. They didn’t arrive at that spot-on overnight- America had the Yellow Journalism days, but they evolved. The West have used journalism to feed their society in a manner that has worked normatively for them, so their fears are indeed well-founded when new media seems to come to disrupt that status quo.
In Africa on the other hand, what I perceive is that the journalists genuinely believe that what they do is essential to democracy (and other areas that promote development), but is African journalism really fulfilling this role of contributing its quota to spur forth indigenous development? If by any chance new media and its citizen journalists overtake the traditional newspapers, would they be missed at all?
Farooq Kperogi, an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Citizen Media at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, did a study on how diaspora citizen online media in Nigeria impact on her politics and journalistic practice. He explained that in developed democracies, the relationship between new media and mainstream media is that the former often acts as an ‘echo chamber of mass-mediated political views’ for the latter, rather than an abrupt or major alternative. This means that citizen journalists usually feed-off mainstream news organizations because they are well established enough.
Kperogi then proceeded to ask the following questions; what is different about the citizen media in Nigeria that gives them the power to sometimes determine the editorial agendas of institutional media? Why would the online media of a far-flung diaspora challenge the authority and credibility of an established homeland media organization, mobilize the citizenry home and abroad, and consequentially impact state policies? To put it crudely and in my words, why does it seem that citizen journalists are doing a better job than the veterans?
Unlike in the U.S. where the dearth or death of traditional journalism is feared to herald a citizenry malnourished from half-truths, misinformation and propaganda, reverse is said to be the case in far South. This position can be debated, and it may not be the widespread case across all African countries. Therefore, I will abandon this argument and propose the kind of media, whether online or mainstream, that I argue would drive Africa to its desired point of development.
If there are African news or media organizations are already getting it right, kudos, if not, let’s consider adopting these following traits to the extent to which they suit the individual contexts of our societies. As I mentioned earlier, Africa is not a country.
The media and perhaps bloggers Africa needs has the following traits:
1. Conscious of the voices of the people.
People talk, but who listens? It is no wonder citizen journalists are gradually becoming the preferred domain of news, at least my fellow citizen would listen to me, and I would reciprocate.
2. One that is given to expert analysis of socio-political and economic events
I am afraid that pop-culture has overtaken the media. Entertainment pulls the crowd, but would we sacrifice information that has the potential to liberate us from economic woes and political struggles at the altar of a few laughs from silly sitcoms and booty-wagging music videos? The verse, my people perish from lack of knowledge has never been truer in this case. Africans need the kind of media that can analytically weave a series of events in a consequential thread where the outcome based on what steps the citizenry decide to take would be obvious. When decisions affecting the society are taken on a whim, that society stands the risk of being manipulated for selfish gains by wiser societies.
3. One that is totally sold-out to development
I mentioned earlier how the West has used journalism to feed their society in a manner that has worked for them. It is in my opinion that Africa needs to do the same. To practice journalism in the rote manner of the West is like fitting a round peg in a square hole. Africa is not America, and Nigeria is definitely not South Africa. Both online and traditional journalists need to adopt a development-oriented attitude in performing their information, education and entertainment functions.
The matter arising would then be, what is development? That question is so robust it would only fit into another post.
Be the man – the media Africa needs.
Blog: Diary of a Media Junkie