10/8/07

NY times articles about Madagascar and Congo: media bias ?



(Photo credit to Lynsey Addario for The New York Times)
I admit it. I have a selective perspective when it comes to news coming from Africa in the media. Because of my work, I have to stay informed with the recent up to date with news related to healthcare and AIDS but I'd really rather not read about it. It's not difficult to understand why.

Let's imagine this scenario: you are a WWII war French veteran, you were captured and made prisoner of war, then you escaped and join the resistance. Decades later, you move to the United States where for some reasons, being French is synonymous to surrendering, waving the white flag.

At first, you would smile at the senselessness of the " surrender monkey" jokes and you would try to understand how such misconception came about. You would try to explain to people why this is an incorrect stereotyping of History and French people in general, and that it is rather disrespectful of the spirit of the memory of your friends who died in the Resistance.
You would soon understand that it is not in the interest of most people in the media here to portray France in a truthful manner. It does not appeal to the general public and most people would still remind you that you indeed surrendered to the German army and needed their army to free your country. You might grow tired of trying to explain the ineptitude of such stereotyping (although blogs like superfenchie and miquelon must be applauded for not giving up) .

Eventually you would find yourself rejoiced beyond reason that the national rugby team showed the world than there is no surrender in the French spirit. After the feeling of bittersweet redemption:( "yes, we showed them ! Surrender monkey, my a...") you come to wonder how you ended up feeling so strongly about the way people may (erroneously) perceive you.

Now, certainly the perception of Africa and France in the world is as different as can be but I feel the same kind of frustration when I read news about home in the media. Poverty, epidemics, helplessness....the list goes on and on....

As much as I try to tell people that there is so much more to Madagascar and Africa than what the media shows, I am growing tired of explaining that it is also a land of opportunities and hope, not in the future but right now.

I am certainly not denying that some issues needs most urgent attention ,(heck that is my job after all) but once in a while, I would like for the work of the people in the fields to be acknowledged with more emphasis . To keep with the far-fetched metaphor, there are also pocket of resistance back home, people who do not accept the fatality of poverty and illness.
It would go a long way in the change of outlook about Africa if more lights were shed on the positive progress and less on the extend of the desolation.

However, today I will make an exception to my volontary bias. I will not discuss the latest positive development in Africa.
Why ? Because, sometimes, I need a wake-up call. Because things are not OK. because some issues need more exposure, more outrage.

(photos credits to Hazel Thompson for The New York Times)
Two articles in the NYT discuss sexual violences in Africa, a recent one in Congo and an older one about Madagascar (it is now available for free so I am linking to it).
Here are a few excerpts from these articles:
In Antananarivo:
"girls as young as 5 are expected to confront their tormentors face to face. Perhaps most daunting, poor families must produce at least $15 to cover investigation costs like gloves and paper for medical exams. That was nearly enough to deter Claudine Ravoniarisoa, who appeared at Mr. Mouigni’s station one recent Thursday with her 15-year-old daughter. Wringing her hands nonstop, the girl told officers that a neighbor had raped her while her mother was hospitalized...“We had to do it,” said her mother, who said that everyone in her village knew about the case and asked that her daughter’s name and picture be used. “Everybody should be aware that things like this should not happen to children.”"

A more recent article talks about the rape epidemic in Congo:
"...in one town, Shabunda, 70 percent of the women reported being sexually brutalized...At Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Mukwege performs as many as six rape-related surgeries a day, bed after bed is filled with women lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling, with colostomy bags hanging next to them because of all the internal damage."
Portraying Africa under a positive light is a noble cause for it strives to give a more balance picture of the reality there. However, until we are significantly able to reduce the suffering of our own women and children, we are disrespecting their pain by not acknowledging the situation that some of them are currently in.

4 comments:

  1. > we are disrespecting their pain by not acknowledging the situation that some of them are currently in.

    You are so right, it would be indecent to sacrifice the weakest in the name of the "noble cause" of the defense of the image of Africa.

    Such a sad story but a Great post Lova, THANX ;)

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  2. hey pal...Interpol stole our ideas....lol
    do you remember when we wanted to go on crusade against the pedophile in Mada, taking pics of them and publish on the web, make a list and give it to travel companies...Now that it is "commonly" accepted and not "depressing" to talk about this topic, I think we can give this "Fight sex tourism" war a try...

    ok ok kok....maybe I'm doint too much things at the same time...this was the reason I left this cause...not enough time...but heart is still there
    let's say when we begin the campaign, it will be wild !!

    ok bizzz enough spamming

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  3. Lova & Tomavana. In "Les Belles Images", Simone de Beauvoir describes a situation which could be transferable to present days. The protagonist, a conscientious mother, wonders why her daughter is worried about some inevitable evils that exist in the world but occur far from home –hunger, epidemics, natural disasters- and cause devastating effects among huge numbers of poor people of the third world, although these problems can not be solved solely by one person (if they can be solved at all). This impotence of the single individual to solve a given evil produces a natural, defensive reaction in many humans. People like "belle images" and are not prepared to be constantly exposed to the image of horror or suffering. The natural reaction of the mother is, then, to change the TV channel or the subject in order to avoid the exposure of her beloved daughter to the cruellest aspects of life. The extreme version of the "belle image" syndrome is just to avoid talking or showing pictures of some particular disaster.

    I am sure you identify the syndrome I am talking about, but I cannot but disagree with you when you write "Portraying Africa under a positive light is a noble cause for it strives to give a more balance picture of the reality there. However, until we are significantly able to reduce the suffering of our own women and children, we are disrespecting their pain by not acknowledging the situation that some of them are currently in".

    Shedding a positive light on Africa is definitely an attempt to bring a more balanced and true picture of this continent.

    How could we just deny the good in the name of the ugly?

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  4. @ Tomavana and tnr,
    Thank you both for weighing in on how the image of Africa in the news.
    I believe the issue is in striking the right balance in the content we discuss WRT Africa. Finding the right of amount of optimism before it turns into denial of reality.
    The reality is, in a grossly simplified manner, progress are made and many people deserve accolade for that; still the current situation for the overwhelming majority is apalling.
    I commend all the bloggers and journalists who are correcting the skewed vision of a "desolated" Africa. I think they are de facto more credible in their assessment of the continent. Which is excactly the reason why they need to be the one giving the reality check as well.
    How does the saying goes ? " If you are not outraged, then you are not paying attention."
    Surely one person cannot solve all the problems, but one person can ask her representative what is being done to solve this issue;
    or be part of some kind of attempt at a solution herself.
    @Jogany,
    I think somehow we will inded address that problem at smaller scale....somewhere... ;)

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