Media and NGOs: African media tell their own stories

gole Philip Ngwese, Cameroon's Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, speaks to journalists in Yaounde, Cameroon, May 2013. (Credit: Ollivier Girard/CIFOR)

This is the fourth part in a series on the relationship between NGOs and the media.

This week saw the founding of the African News Agency (ANA). Backed by $20 million, the South Africa-based news service has plans to expand to 15 new countries on the continent by July. It claims to be the the “first syndicated multimedia content service” in Africa.

The organization steps in for the soon-closing South African Press Association and has the ambition to join the likes of the Associated Press and Agence France‑Presse. There is hope that it can reclaim the voice of Africa.

“To get news about Ebola pandemic or even the church building collapse in Nigeria, we have to rely on all but ourselves,” says an OpEd in the Cape Times about the launch of ANA. “Now at last we Africans can tell our own stories, in our own words. Now African can truly write what she likes.”

The establishment of the ANA is just one example of the changing media landscape for the aid and development sector. While this series has focused on the relationships between Western media and NGOs, the two now face working with (or competing against, at times) local news organizations.

Existing outlets on the continent, from Sudan’s Radio Dabanga to Nigeria’s Daily Trust to Uganda’s The Observer, have covered news in the countries – including the aid and development projects carried out – for years. Some are better than others with regard to quality of reports and freedom of expression.

Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda has been a vocal critic of aid to Africa for years. His columns in the newspaper he founded, The Independent, address foreign aid and democracy in Uganda. He might be best known for his strong support of Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his TED talks challenging some common conceptions about foreign aid.

But it is not just critical voices that dominate the media landscape. Africa Check – funded by the AFP Foundation, Google, the Open Society Foundation and others – provides a fact check for statements made by leaders and groups throughout the continent. A recent story delves into the question as to what percentage of sex workers in South Africa are HIV-positive. The CEO of the South African National Aids Council said the infection rate was more than 60 percent, based on studies.

Sintha Chiumia of AfricaCheck found that the studies cited were not as strong as claimed.

The claim that 60 percent of sex workers across South Africa are HIV-positive cannot be substantiated by the very limited surveys conducted to date. The available data is old. No national surveys have been conducted. … And as limited as they are, the findings of the studies that have been published to date – and the study that is due to be published next month – give a frightening indication of the extent of HIV infections in the cities and communities surveyed.

Checks extend beyond Africa. TIME magazine was taken for task after publishing an article calling Africa the drunkest continent in the world. It will not be long before Africa Check and other places look into the claims made by NGOs of all sizes. And let’s not to forget citizen-led efforts, such as Nuba Reports in Sudan’s embattled Nuba Mountains. More forms of media are documenting progress in countries everywhere. All of which underlines the obvious point – this conversation cannot only be about nor with Western Media.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.