Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2010 - South Africa's International image in the Media


I'm interested in how the world sees South Africa - especially with the oncoming soccer world cup in 2010. Whether you're a local watching international news, a South African abroad, a foreigner who has visited SA or is just interested in visiting us - what do you see of SA in international news? Please share your experiences with me and where possible, give me a link to the photo/blog/website/video/article where you got the information from. I'd love to hear your stories and opinions Laughing

An interesting article to read is: The Media and Africa: who is failing whom, by Ian MacDonald.


A segment from the article:

The media and Africa: who is failing whom?

Does South Africa and Africa as a whole only receive negative international news coverage and, if so, is the international media is failing us?

Although it is clear that South Africa and Africa as a whole don't only receive negative press, I was interested in exploring the second part of the viewpoint - whether the international media was perhaps failing the continent.

Perhaps, then, local media is failing South Africa? (The debate whether South African media have a role, or even an obligation, for nation-building over and above their responsibility to keep citizens informed, is one for another day.)

So who is failing whom?

I think that Africa is actually failing itself. Africans, African Governments and African businesses should take the lead in presenting to the World a different face of Africa, one that highlights the successes, ingenuity and progress of the continent. The responsibility lies with us.

As Tina van der Heyden of Rhodes University says "As long as bad news sells (and it most certainly will for a long time to come), we shouldn't hold our breath waiting for the Western media to realise that their images are not an accurate portrayal of Africa's reality. As Africans, we need to stop seeing ourselves through the eyes of the Western media and find a way to make them see us as we see ourselves."

By Ian Macdonald

Please feel free to pass the link on to someone you know who may be interested.

Thanks for your time.



jeff said...

Some semi-coherent ramblings for you- I hope they'll be useful.

South Africa in the media- where to begin? In Canada, at least, I think it's fair to say that when S.A. is mentioned at all outside of the sports pages (and even that's quite infrequent, though Caster Semenya is disproving that at the moment), the prevailing themes still have a lot to do with apartheid, Mandela, and that vein. The recent movie District 9 is likely contributing to this as well.

The truth is, newsmedia typically focus on local news on the assumption that's what their audiences are interested in. The exceptions to this are generally great tragedies -earthquakes, tsunamis- or acts that are so shocking they can't be ignored wars, and so on.

With regards to South Africa, there simply isn't a lot of reporting. S.A. isn't a major power like China or the US, doesn't have the historical ties of France or the UK (or Europe in general, for that matter).

The coverage of the African continent as a whole does tend to focus on the negatives; whether this is justified or not I'm not in a position to say. We do hear a fair amount about the poverty, disease, and strife facing many of the countries on the continent; but the amount of attention paid to, say, the situation in Darfur or the AIDS crisis is still virtually non-existent when compared with the trivialities which do receive much coverage- celebrity affairs, sports, and the like.

While there's inarguably a certain amount of ethnocentricity involved in this, it also has to do with the fact that there are a lot of countries in the world, and newsmedia (internet excepted) have finite amounts of newsprint/airtime at their disposal- every column or air minute spent on one topic is one that will not be spent something else. I suspect that the amount of coverage given to South Africa in Canada is likely similar to the amount of coverage given to Canada in South Africa. If we were a football-playing nation, there might be a little bit more. Consider hosting the World Cup of Ice Hockey if you really want to get our attention.

Hope this helps!

Heinrich said...

I'm writing from the perspective of a South African who's traveled quite a bit in Europe, mostly Germany.

While I have no idea what South Africa's coverage is through media in other countries, I received a few stock-responses from the people I talked to abroad.

Firstly, the thing that struck me most is that people tend to generalise South Africa relative to the continent - i.e. South Africa = Africa. The country and the continent are the same entity, in their eyes. I found it so striking when I would introduce myself as coming from South Africa, and they (Europeans) would refer to me as coming from Africa. There is no distinction made between the two.

Secondly, people would ask all weird questions about animals. They would tell me there's a zoo close by with some lions, we can go visit it if I'd like... I find this cute but rather silly.

From these two small examples it seems to me that the media focuses on very specific and somewhat cliched images of South Africa - for instance our wild animals, Mandela, apartheid, etc. etc. Where do they get these ideas? From the media.

I would say then, the idea I have of media coverage of South Africa, is that it is based on people's (mis)conceptions of the place and not the place itself. Much in the same vein as talking about the "mystic Far East", or the "terrible and cruel Middle East", or the "bloody Turks taking over Germany". Although these cliched responses may be grounded in some form of reality, they are largely over-simplifications of much more complex and diverse groups of people. Real people, with real worries, real joys and distinct past (which is often very different to what it is portrayed to be in the history books).

Whatever we hear of South Africa in the international media, it is likely to have the flavour of truth but probably miss the point in any event. Or am I now overly skeptic about media?

miakara said...


Thanks for your input Jeff - I doubt we're really a contender in ice hockey...that being said, I appreciate your "ramblings" on what you have read about South Africa in your media back home in Canada.
The only bit of "Candian" news I've read in the past month is about a South African being granted asylum...check it out at these two sites to give you an idea: http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/newsletter_archive/canada_asylum_and_the_sprinkler_salesman.html

I suppose it comes down to what may be applicable to viewers/readers/listeners/etc from a specific country.

I was hoping that the soccer world cup news may reach as far as your hemisphere, but alas...as you mentioned - you're not a soccer country :)

Thanks for your other inputs - I'm yet to watch District 9...sorry, I've been a busy student!!! Quite curious about it.

Local news has a great impact on what is reported internationally, the article I refer to in the original post lays emphasis on this.

Thanks man!!!
Chat to ya later

miakara said...

Heinrich - thanks for your input :) I appreciate your participation.

My experiences abroad coincide with yours to some extent.
SA = Africa, the whole living among animals thing and focus on poverty and AIDS...

What I experienced differently, was my exposure to South Africans abroad...some of them tended to eagerly distribute negative views on South Africa with great focus on crime rates, why they left the country, why they'd never return to SA, why tourists shouldn't visit, the list goes on and on...

What I find a great pity, is that this may convince foreigners not to come here and enable them to make up their own minds...
Yes, we do have ridiculously high crime/AIDS/corruption/etc rates, but we also have soooo much to offer in terms of travel destinations, possibilities in business and development and especially opening Africa as an international sport destination.

We've managed great with hosting rugby and cricket world cups, often international athletes practice here for games (think of all the international track and field athletes in our small little town of Potchefstroom!) and with the necessary realistic precautions they've had great experiences here.

You can have a look at http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/countdown_to_2010/index.php
to get an idea of all the 'good news" on the soccer world cup developments.

Thanks for your contribution!!!