Global Media Imbalance and Michael Peels Africa

The developing world, Africa in particular has always argued against the imbalances and injustices in the coverage of their affairs by the western media. Such coverage is not only paternalistic but most times grossly unfair, and serves only to sustain the imperialistic interests of the developed world.

Such imbalanced, negative and biased reporting is bound to continue because of the concentration of global media networks and resources in the west. It is indeed sad that 26 years after the UNESCO sponsored McBride Commission and Report, the recommendations are yet to be fully implemented; the most significant of which is the suggestion for “the progressive implementation of national and international measures that will foster the setting up of a new world information and communication order”.

If anything, the information divide between the developed and developing countries has widened even further especially in this digital age which is being driven by globalization and technology. Africa and the rest of the developing world have found themselves again lagging behind the west. However, a little goodwill and responsibility on the part of the western media is really needed at this time to prevent the continued psychological scares and damages, leading sometimes to feelings of inferiority complex on the part of the African as a result of continued sensationalisation and criminalisation of everything African.

Not all Africans are criminals, rapists and savages. Also, there are many good things about Africa. Not all Africans live in slums; neither do they all scavenge rubbish heaps for food. Africa has also produced intellectuals and academics that can stand their own in the western world. Agreed the continent still faces peculiar challenges but so does the rest of the developed world.
A situation where little efforts on the part of African governments and their people to take control of their destiny are either unreported, misreported, under-reported or acknowledged with cynicism by the western media is unacceptable, and does not indicate respect for the continent, neither does it reflect the ideals of partnership, a concept that Western leaders have been touting lately. But why do the western media still thrive on a culture of negative and biased reporting of Africa and her people? It could be as a result of the need to improve ratings, which can only be achieved by satisfying the mundane voyeuristic tastes and expectations of the western media audience whose colonial views of Africa as the backward and dark continent must be reinforced and sustained.

It could also be as a result of the immoral culture and acceptance by the western media that bad news sells’, and hence news about hunger in Sudan depicting dying children, or about savagery in Rwanda must be sought and reported by all means, even if at the sacrifice and expense of the developmental needs of the African, as well as their national interests.

The McBride Report was published at a time when global media concentration was in the hands of national governments and their agencies, the understanding must have been that these governments would prevail on the media networks through directed policies to encourage a new world information and communication order. Because the report is advisory in nature and relied on goodwill from the stakeholders without any legislative powers to enforce sanctions, it had remained merely what it is a report and doesn’t seem to have made much impact. Despite the efforts by Africans to set up the Pan African News Agency (PANA) billed as the voice of Africa to the world and representing the African perspective, not much could be said to have been achieved and it has been business as usual ever since.

Finally, the greater concentration of global media networks in the west for example CNN, BBC, FOX, Reuters, AFP etc, coupled with the availability of material and human resources have meant that western media are able to come up first with the news, as against African media networks such as NTA, SABC, PANA, NAN, AIT etc who are still bogged by dearth of resources, and therefore can not cope in the global news race, thus limiting their chances of covering the African continent positively. It is such that Africans have had to rely on the western media for news coverage of events happening right under their noses, or in their back yards. The western media are able to deploy resources even to the remotest regions because they possess the resources and personnel. Not the same can be said for African media networks.

Africans may also be guilty of helping to perpetuate this neo-colonialism, western journalists and writers and their chauvinistic views are culled, celebrated and given spaces in African media channels, not minding that the situation reversed becomes like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle for African writers and journalists to be published in the western media, with the exception of a few African writers and journalists who maintain the western status quo, unwilling to rock the boat.

Few incidents reported recently in the United Kingdom (UK) media drives home this point. The Tony Blair government has been embroiled in a battle for political survival since their battering at the last local government elections in May 2006. The Blair government is looking for sacrificial lambs every where to make up for the government’s ineptitude in certain areas, and also to satisfy the interests of the media. It appears that they have zeroed in on Africans and other immigrants in the UK. The British media have now successfully created the impression in the minds of the ever increasing nationalistic UK citizens, that immigrants are evil and criminal. Matters were also not helped by the fact that over a thousand dangerous criminals were mistakenly released, some of whom allegedly were supposed to be deported but were not as a result of a Home office error.

Newspapers such as the Evening Standard went to town recently with a screaming headline announcing that five Nigerian illegal immigrants were caught working in the home office. A further check actually showed that the immigrants in question worked as cleaners under contract with another firm at the Home office building.
Such biased headlines actually undermine the importance of immigrants in most western economies. Considering the low wages paid to workers in the cleaning and related sectors, it remains to be seen if citizens of these countries would agree to work such menial jobs at the ludicrous wages the immigrants are paid for their services.

It appears Nigeria now represents everything evil in eyes of the western media as they are quick to give front page coverage with screaming headlines to matters concerning the country. Take the case of Dr Richard Akinrolabu, a senior house officer at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester who was accused by his lover and colleague of attempting to carry out illegal abortion procedures on her. The doctor was named and shamed in front page headlines which were written along the lines of Nigerian Doctor ‘ His accuser, the white woman did not suffer the same fate. The case was thrown out eventually but not after the huge embarrassment to the doctor and his fellow country men. You would expect the media to also accord the not-guilty verdict the same headlines and coverage but they did not.

Another example of western media misreporting of Africa and Africans could be seen in the case of Guy Koma, who mistakenly became an interview guest on the BBC News 24 programme. Due to a scheduling mix-up, Mr Koma was mistaken for the scheduled guest (Guy Kewney) but still managed to talk’ his way through the session although he had no clue of the interview theme. The UK media revelled in the story because of its human interest angle but wrongly identified Mr Koma as a taxi driver. Not that there is anything wrong with being a taxi driver but the media’s judgment could only have been influenced by their age-old prejudices as to the type of jobs African immigrants do. It has since been confirmed that Mr Koma was actually attending a job interview in the IT department of BBC at the time of the mix-up. There were no follow-up reports on whether he got the job, not that Mr Koma cared anyway because he has since signed a lucrative movie deal with an American production company over the incident and is billed to play himself in the movie.

Michael Peel’s Africa

Perhaps Africa’s and indeed Nigeria’s biggest enemy with regards to negative and biased reporting is Michael Peel, I have indeed tried to contain myself and to be patient with this voyeur cum journalist but I can not hold myself anymore. Not after his last damning report and one-sided take on fraud and scams purportedly emanating out of Nigeria which he claims costs the United Kingdom billions annually.

How long should we stand by and watch this fellow dehumanise Africans and indeed Nigerians with his negative take on the African continent? This past week, most of the United Kingdom newspapers have been awash with Mr Peel’s story, conversations on tubes and buses and in offices have been ignited once again with the story of Nigerians and their financial invention the 419 scam. But this is not all that Nigerians are good at, unfortunately it is the only one that Michael Peel chose to tell the world. For people like me who speak the English language flavoured with a thick Nigerian accent, and who bear flag-waving African names, there is no escaping the scorn, sympathies’ and jeers.

As the West African correspondent of the Financial Times Newspaper, Michael Peel has never found anything good and positive in the whole sub-region worth reporting, his reports are usually couched in cynicism, threads of decay, death and backwardness knit them together, just like the news reports of his fellow western media journalists stationed in Africa whose only mandate is to report the bad and ugly. For Michael Peel and his associates there is nothing good coming out of Africa; Africa is still a dark continent and its people savages and criminals.
I often wonder, when they go to bed at night, do they calmly shut their eyes with the satisfaction that they have done their best through their many warped and negative reports to improve the lives of the Africans whom they constantly denigrate, or does the thought that they may be contributing to Africa’s backwardness linger somewhere on their minds?

As an associate fellow of Chatham House, does Michael Peel not realise that the documents he authors and which are endorsed by Chatham House in a way influences policies including the decisions taken by governments and global investors concerning Africa, and that such parochial take on issues is at cross purposes with Africa and indeed Nigeria’s march towards national re-birth, and its current drive to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs)?

Where has the journalistic objectivity he learnt in journalism school gone to? In telling his readers how much the United Kingdom loses annually to fraud emanating from Nigeria, he conveniently ignored the fact that his fellow citizens (the innocent’ victims) are also co-perpetrators in the crime, and that their misfortune’ only came about because of their greed and immoral inclination to rape Africa and rob it of its resources. A disposition that dates centuries and continues to be witnessed in Africa’s many mines and oil wells.

So who is smiling last now? The poor Africans that he so much detests and derides constantly, subjecting them to constant ridicule in the western media, and elevating them to favourite dinner table topics, and ballroom party conversations in Westminster through his negative reports, or is it the greedy white men and women who planned to reap where they did not sow and got done in the process?
Maybe Michael Peel should take a cue from John Simpson, BBC’s former Africa correspondent and world affairs editor who reports Africa just like a partner in Africa’s progress and development should; praising and critiquing it when necessary while at the same time savouring, celebrating and immersing himself in the culture of the people, their food, music, art, and lifestyle.

In one of Mr Simpson’s many introspective essays published sometime in 2000 in an edition of High Life, the British Airways in-flight magazine; John Simpson wrote what I consider to be one of the most beautiful articles about Nigeria ever written by a non-Nigerian. In the said article, he bared his soul while declaring his love for a country that he said was probably one of the best countries in the world to live in despite the odds and challenges.

Surely there are things Mr Simpson must have seen or experienced to have made him arrive at such a conclusion. Such an endorsement coming from a widely travelled man and writer obviously beats the many battering at the keyboards of the Michael Peels of this world who may have overstayed their welcome, and should now be thinking of packing their bags and leaving the beautiful continent; the land of the great rivers and the rising sun.

I guess it is only Michael Peel that can produce the statistical formula he used to arrive at the alleged amount of money the United Kingdom loses annually to Nigerian fraudsters, if his billion pounds calculations were true, would there have still been a need for Nigeria and the rest of Africa to be asking for debt cancellation? Would such gigantic proceeds of crime not have been visible on the ground? Would all the roads and pavements in Nigeria not be tarred and paved with gold, and would the economy of the United Kingdom not have seriously felt the impact of such illegal capital flights moving out of the economy to Nigeria?

Michael Peel should please get another vocation and leave Nigeria and Nigerians alone. Scare mongering is hardly what the world needs at this stage, particularly the United Kingdom which currently grapples with a myriad of issues including large scale corporate fraud (post Enron, Andersen, WorldCom, Tyco etc), organized crime, poverty, anti-social behaviours, teenage pregnancy, threat of terrorism and rising unemployment etc. If he is so much concerned, he should be parading the studios of the BBC, ITV, Channels 4 and 5 as well as Sky exhorting his people and advising them not to give away their billions of pounds to Nigerians.

Africans and their governments share part of the blame for not fighting their own battles themselves. They have repeatedly failed to invest in their own media systems and infrastructures with which to tell their own stories. It may be along this line though that the Nigerian government-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) recently started broadcasting internationally. Worthy of note also is the reported plans by Nigeria’s News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) to begin a 24-hour transmission from January 2007 like other global news wires. These are all positive moves which if sustained in the longer term would give Nigeria a voice on the global arena, in addition to the little efforts of privately owned terrestrial channels such as Africa Independent Television (AIT), Bright Entertainment Network (BEN) Television, and OBE etc.

The attempt by Mr Peel to palm off his guestimates as research in order to support his position and those of his paymasters is indeed appalling; if only he was sincere, a casual probe would have told him that most of the scam emails do not originate from Nigeria, agreed some unscrupulous Nigerians may have popularised the scams but other citizens of the world including citizens of the United Kingdom have since perfected it. Mr Peel can not argue for sure that the daily Euro Millions Prize Monies’ and such similar scam emails which bombard our email boxes daily all originate from Nigeria, or does he not watch the BBC Watchdog programme? How many Nigerians have been featured in that programme? Are the usual suspects not his fellow countrymen and women who get caught in the act while attempting to fleece other law abiding citizens including pensioners of their hard earned money? The age-old reliance by African countries on western media such as the BBC, Financial Times, CNN, VOA etc for information has not really done Africa much good. The time has come for Africa and Africans to start telling their own stories, and to commit Michael Peel and his co-travellers who feast on Africa’s misfortunes, and are always quick to condemn, judge, blame and criminalise the good people of Africa with their myopic reports to the rubbish bins of history.