[cnn]Everyday the media reports chaos and commotion in the Middle East. CNN has given us segment titles such as “Crisis in the Middle East,” “Mid East Turmoil” and “Today in War.” Issues such as the war in Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian violence and Iranian nuclear enrichments have been heavily reported. Unless you never pick up a newspaper or turn on the news, it’s next to impossible to be unaware of these events. And while the Middle East is far from being the only region with conflict, one might think differently based on the enormous amount of media attention it has received. Crises in other parts of world, particularly that of Africa, have seemed to give way to the Middle East.
“I don’t think I’ve even seen Darfur in the news except for the commercials for funds and support, but what I do see in the news is mostly about the war in Iraq,” general management freshman Brett Tippman said.
Journalism professor Folu Ogundimu, a native of Nigeria currently teaching International Press, is not concerned so much with the amount of coverage Africa has received in comparison to other parts of the world, but rather the type of coverage it has received. In his view it is largely negative, and moreso, he thinks it has perpetuated an inaccurate depiction of the continent. “When it comes to Africa in particular, year after year researchers show for more than 40 years, Africa has typically received very little coverage in the news,\” he said, \”and when it has received coverage at all, it only receives coverage about all the really bad things that are happening in Africa, the really bad things, what they call the disaster stories, the stories about the pathologies of state, the disease of people and so on.\”
Tippman agreed. “Pretty much all I ever hear about Africa is genocide, AIDS or famine,” he said. [quote1]
Such stories, Ogundimu believes, are not representative of Africa as a whole. “We always have to put the stories in the proper context and that is what’s so wrong,” he said. “So when Africa is covered, the only things that we hear about are: Darfur, Darfur, Darfur today and AIDS, AIDS, AIDS, but these are not the only things happening. Africans are not dying. AIDS is a serious problem, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not that every African is dying on the street because of AIDS.”
Economics sophomore Aylysh Gallagher said she believes stories reported by the news media are accurate depictions of the current state of affairs, for if they were inaccurate they would not run. “I don’t think they portray it more or [worse] than it is. They just portray it how it is,” she said. “I think they just cover it so that people will see it, so it will get attention and get help.”
However, in addition to the episodic and crisis favoring nature of the news media, Ogundimu also cited ignorance as a primary reason for the reputedly negative depiction of Africa. Sending reporters with little to no knowledge about Africa, its culture, its people, its triumphs and its issues may not produce a completely honest article, he said.
“Like everywhere else in the world, the news media cover foreign affairs, international news largely from the point of view of the interest of the societies they represent, what we call the national strategic interest point of view,” he said. “American media is going to go outside and cover the war only from the way that they’ve been brought up, and the way that they were conditioned and the way the government operates its foreign policy,” he said.
An intense focus on crises may have ulterior motives, however, than just drawing focus toward troubled regions. “Coverage in the news media is typically dictated by what is considered breaking news, big headline stories…so it’s Nicaragua today, El Salvador tomorrow, or a war in Iraq or the Gulf War, AIDS in Africa, this and that,” Ogundimu said.
Some students agreed and believed most of the international press generated by the news media is disaster driven. “I think it’s all negative,” no preference freshman Sarah Lopez said. “The news mainly reports about negative stuff going on in the world because usually they report on what shocks people.”
Shock value, as aspiring journalists are taught, is one factor that makes news stories important. Is such a narrow focus on crises and disasters the right way to portray news from other countries? One may wonder why the triumphs and successes of other countries are, if not rarely reported, rarely remembered. “You never hear anything positive in the news,” Tippman said.
Disaster stories have a track record for attracting more interest. It could be argued that CNN doesn’t get its high ratings or prestigious reputation for covering the illustrious beauty of the Swiss Alps but rather for covering riots in Budapest or corrupt behavior of U.S. congressmen. So is negative news due to an abundance of tragic stories or is it used as a tool to attract readers and viewers?
Communications freshman Darcy Dittrich thinks the Middle East definitely receives more media attention than Africa and also believes the government and foreign policy are big factors in this. “That was such a big part of the elections,\” she said, \”and we have our people and our funds there [in the Middle East]. I think it’s just because right now the government wants a lot of attention on the war in Iraq, and I feel like it’s because our troops aren’t in Darfur.” [quote2]
The government’s role in the war in Iraq probably has a lot to do with the amount of media attention the Middle East receives. “I guess because people are more interested in it and politicians are more interested in it, and they affect the media a lot. They get people interested in the stories they want and give it to the media,” Gallagher said.
But it is not only African countries, which the Middle East seems to take precedence over. Coverage of issues such as repeated train bombings in India, continued civil strife in Sri Lanka and the still oppressive government in Cuba seem to give way to the cultural and territorial disputes occurring in more Eastern areas. “Europe too,” Lopez said, referring to another region she believes generates a disproportionate amount of media attention. “I haven’t heard much about it. Europe and Russia. I watch the Spanish channel and the English channel so I feel like I hear coverage about everything, but not those parts.”
It is also important to realize that U.S. media are not alone in such coverage of international news. “The British media is going to do the same, and the French media is going to do the same, and so on and so forth,” Ogundimu said.
When the international media refers to Africa, Dittrich said,” It’s always about ‘a group of uncivilized people,’ and they’re not. It’s wrong to say that people are uncivilized.”
The issue of one-sided reports about issues overseas has also become prevalent in the media today. “A lot of it has to do with sociological training and upbringing of members of the news media,” Ogundimu said. “They’ve been conditioned to think of Africa in particular as a dark, mysterious continent still largely ruled by ‘savages.’ It’s the popular construction that comes to mind. They may not accept it say ‘oh no, we’re not thinking about that’ but deep down there’s an element of that.”
This type of thinking, Ogundimu believes, is what helps give rise to the amount of negative media attention Africa receives and what perpetuates the myth that the AIDS crisis is solely an African problem. “AIDS is a human problem, it’s not an African problem,” he said.
Gallagher believes the subject of AIDS is undoubtedly an important issue, but a tired one as well. “I think that especially with AIDS people are so sick of hearing about it, that it is no longer covered how it should be.”
The excessive crisis coverage and imbalanced stories may be attributed in part to the lack of proper sources and the extent of work put into reporting. “We send our reporters to Africa and what do reporters do? They don’t even talk to the Africans. Most of the time they fly into the country and go straight to the U.S. embassy and talk to the U.S. ambassador and the information officer and go ‘what can you tell me about what’s happening in this country?’\” Ogundimu said. \”They look at the AP biographies and the BBC biographies; they talk to westerners that live in the country. It’s as if the Africans themselves don’t exist, they don’t have a voice. The people who are most affected by the problems they are trying to describe, we don’t even talk to them.\”
It is impossible for one to deny both the importance and the amount of influence events in the Middle East have had on the Western world, though neither can one deny the importance of events in Africa or other parts world. “They are shown out of proportion with many of the good things that are happening in Africa, stories of human enterprise, stories of success, stories of struggle, against all odds that are imposed by the international system and how Africa thrives under impossible conditions,” Ogundimu said. “The news media portrays Africa only in these terms, and it’s not the real Africa. It’s not the only Africa there is.\”

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