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African Publishers Can Push Back Against Western Media Bias, #SMWLagos Panel Says

February 23, 2016

A panel of media practitioners organized by The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom convened to discuss how Western media portrays Africa incorrectly. Among the panelists were journalist and former Special Assistant on Civil Society and International Affairs to the President Ken Wiwa, the Managing Editor of YNaija Isime Esene, journalist Yomi Kazeem, Sahara Reporters publisher Omoyele Sowore, and moderator and journalist Wana Udobang.


Participants collectively agreed that Western media has historically portrayed Africa in reductive and negative terms. According to Mr. Esene, “the primary mistake is Western journalists only report on extremes—good, bad, but no middle ground.” 

He added that the challenge is that much of the Western audience do not find the “in-between stories” appealing, and they are more interested in negative news.

Mr. Sowore told the audience that “we have to look at this from a bunch of perspectives, Western media is still largely a colonial exercise of outsiders rescuing Africa.”

Mr. Wiwa, while agreeing with others on the panel, said that “the world has also changed because of technology [and] Nigerians are now patronizing foreign media and newspapers in the West who are now responding to that change.” 

Mr Wiwa argued that most foreign correspondents have needed to write stories for their audiences in the West, but that with more Africans reading foreign media for news on Africa, editors and reporters have become more nuanced with their reporting.

The panelists discussed the opportunity that the digital and online environment gives Africans to start their own media organizations and publish stories if they did not like how they were portrayed by the West. Mr. Sowore told the audience that, “Africans should start their own media and tell their own stories, Africans are the best storytellers” for the continent. 

Mr. Wiwa described that many publishers are moving their operations online which have “all new business models.” He added that there are many kinds of influences other than the notorious ‘brown envelope journalism’, including “our political and ethnic biases.” 

The various causes of the West’s biased reporting on Africa included so few reporters on-the-ground in Africa, the ‘parachute mentality’ where correspondents swoop into disaster areas to spend a couple days reporting before being flown back home, and the need for editors and reporters to publish stories which are of interest to their audiences.