On Lazy and Irresponsible Journalism

African Press Club Barcelona Speaker Series held in October

By Newman Samuel Gompil

Numerous popular African tales come in different forms and spins, and that of Blind Men and the Elephant – apart from being one of my favourites – is no different. It’s very simple.

Some blind men were asked to describe an elephant (now, think about this savannah giant in all its magnificence,) and the first man, having touched its tail, believed it had to be something long like a rope with a splash of quilted underbrush at the lower end. The second man concluded, (having groped the gorgeous beast´s tusks) that it’s a porcelain-smooth, round and conical-tipped object. Think about that for a second. And the third man? Well, what do you think the conclusion would be if his hands probed the animal’s ears or trunk? I will leave that to your imagination.

Whilst this tale has become the poster child for relativism, or creating one’s version of reality or, ‘truth’ – as some may prefer to call it, there’s a lot more to it. In October, all roads led to Altair Bookshop in Barcelona, Spain for the African Press Club Speaker Series with the “ Exploring the relationship between the media and politics” as the theme.

A beautiful review had since followed by the Convener, Chiogor Constance Ikokwu, (https://africanpressclub.com/critical-thinking-necessary-to-counter-stereotypes/). It was after reading Ikokwu’s report I realized that even though ‘critical thinking’ was indeed a major focus in the event with all the panellists drumming it home by way of analogies or anecdotes; other matters bugged my soul, matters such as Responsible Journalism.

It is common practice in major news outlets worldwide to practise downright lazy journalism (for want of a better term); to paint an ethnic group or race with one stroke of paint thereby reinforcing stereotypes and clichés. Not only is this irresponsible, but it is also downright lazy journalism. So, it was a huge relief hearing Agus Morales (one of the panellists) bring this issue to the fore having spent five years for the Spanish news agency Agencia EFE in both India and Pakistan.

Stories of media houses or people evolving and coming into a full circle will get my attention any day. I have no doubt whatsoever that in his present capacity as Editor-in-Chief of Revista 5W, an international journal, he and his team will embrace higher standards that puts a face, a human face on stories from other cultures that uplifts our shared humanity and shun clichés that sometimes subjugate an entire race. I also look forward to reading his book “We are not refugees.”

Ultra right political parties and their black staunch supporters

We have seen the rise of right-wing and often populist parties in Europe. In Spain, until the November 10, 2019, general elections, many people didn’t take Vox political party seriously, but having cemented a third place in the parliament, ignoring them is at one’s peril. We’ve seen similar scenarios play out all over Europe in recent times, with Hungary’s Fidesz party in the driving seat. There’s also the National Rally and Freedom Party in France and Austria respectively, just to mention a few. Here is what’s interesting though, or, better still, unsettling: why are populist parties who habitually feed on dangerous divisive nationalism finding unlikely poster boys in the same demographics they take pleasure in maligning?

It was a member of the panel at the event Dr. Laura Cervi (a Professor of Political Communication at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona also one of the panellists) who raised this point, buttressing it with a clear example in Bertrand Ndongo of the Vox. The mood is beautifully captured in the May 17, 2019, EL PAIS publication as El Camerunes Bertrand, estralla en los mitines de vox, which roughly translates as (The Cameroonian Bertrand, Star of Vox rallies.) While, El ‘Negro’ DE VOX (The Blackman of Vox) is how Antena 3, a Spanish terrestrial television channel coined it during ‘Espejo Publico’, one of its popular Programmes.

It’s no different in Italy. The ‘white’ face of the ultra-right (League) party is Tony Iwobi, Italy’s first and only black senator. Senator Iwobi, a Nigerian immigrant entered Italy on a student visa in 1977 and like Mr. Ndongo, they are on a mission to send immigrants back home! There’s yet another star spokesman for Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy,) a populist far-right party whose name is Paolo Diop, with Senegalese origin. Is this a trend? Is this a coincidence? Is this phenomenon not begging for answers? Strange times! 

These were the issues that resonated with me the most as I sat through the last African Press Club Speaker Series. Like the blind men, I saw things through different eye lenses and, I have shared with you in the hope of putting them back on the front burner. I’d be delighted to read more reactions or take-homes from the wonderful event. Let the discussion continue.



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