“Too often, coverage of the African continent is done by people who are not on the African continent. Coverage is collected and assembled in Paris and in London and the United States but there are few people who are actually on the ground in their coverage of Africa,” said Linn Washington, Temple University journalism professor and former editor-in-chief of the Black-owned Philadelphia Tribune.
The complaint about coverage of Africa is not a new one. But according to Al Jazeera, whom Washington commends for having some of the most fair and balanced coverage of any media outlet to be found, says Western coverage of Africa “has gone out of their way to portray the continent as the nadir of human civilization. A dark continent of unspeakable ‘tribal’ savageries, unmitigated suffering, horrible epidemics and child-like helplessness, all bounded by breathtaking vistas of natural beauty.”
Al Jazeera has reporters on the ground. In the case of Sudan, you have Hiba Morgan, born and raised in Sudan, and giving some of the most balanced, fair and comprehensive reporting of the current conflict—which has spread from Khartoum—anywhere to be found.
Washington told Africa Watch, “Al Jazeera has been demonized in the United States. It’s almost as if it’s some kind of diabolical force that is not legitimate news coverage when they provide some of the most comprehensive coverage in a fair and balanced way than any other news organization.” As Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni once said, Africa needs to create its own Al Jazeera.
Washington blames Western news outlets for not being on the ground enough to fully understand the nuance dynamics of some of those distant places they are reporting about. “However, they can put people all over Ukraine so what is that saying?” he asked. Context is also important when covering the dynamics of what is happening in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Washington argues what is missing from most coverage is that “In the early 1990s, the West promised Russia in exchange for dismantling the Soviet Union (that) NATO would not come up to its borders. And that’s what has been happening.” According to France24, the Kremlin said the “West broke a promise it made in the 1990s not to expand NATO.” Russia used its drawing a red line in the sand to justify its invasion of Ukraine. But as Washington repeatedly emphasized the “context” is never mentioned.
According to a “Bias in Media Coverage of Conflict” hosted by the University of Chicago, “When you look at the reporting from Ukraine … the news service’s Bureau Chief for Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, you see a lot of journalists, whether they be from Ukraine, the U.S. or from Europe, who are extremely empathetic. They’re embedded with Ukrainian troops. They’re even covering Ukrainian drone strikes on Russian positions with a lot of support and a lot of empathy.”
“Can you imagine,” one of the presenters said, “CNN embedding with Palestinian resistance fighters in Israel, fighting against Israeli occupation? Both of those situations are essentially the same and I think that has raised questions.”
Washington said Israel with its repeated violations of UN resolutions gets a free pass in Western media outlets. “One of the countries that has the most violations of United Nations resolutions is the country of Israel. However, that critical context is always missing in the coverage.” As a result, Washington argues, reporting is always framed as “equal atrocities on both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
We never see coverage that the Palestinians are the victims of an apartheid regime and have an international right by law to oppose the Israeli occupation, he argued. “It’s as if they’re committing some kind of terrorist acts against the people of Israel. But we don’t see the Israelis in terms of their aggression as aggression. It’s as though they are (just) defending themselves when in fact they created the situation that caused them to have to defend themselves.”
What is also not reported is the tremendous, disproportionate firepower, including bombings the Israelis bring with their questionable defense, destroying civilian neighborhoods as well as infrastructure and killing women and children in the process.
“The notion of objectivity in news coverage is pretty much an American invention,” Washington argued. He said, “People in America say journalists should report the truth. I would argue a more realistic reporting standard would be to report facts. And if you report the facts in an accurate, fair and balanced way, then the public gets accurate information. That’s like looking at it from all sides.” Follow @JehronMuhammad on X formally known as Twitter.