I am trying to understand the reasons behind all television news stations’ preoccupation with the wedding of British Prince William to his bide Kate Middleton. Watching on Friday, 29 April 2011, it appeared there were no other news in the world as we were shown guests being ushered to their seats and told which designers they were wearing. I was doubly irritated at South Africa’s e-News Channel for their decision not to even have news headlines concerning South Africans and Africans for the duration of the wedding ceremony. It was also interesting to see many Africans complaining about the fuss over the ceremony on social networks.
I then decided to visit the internet and social networks and realised that Guardian reporter, David Smith, tweeting as @SmithInAfrica was updating his followers on protest marches that had turned violent in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. That is when I realised that in order for one to get real news these days they have to rely on bloggers and social networks. To me this was a clear sign that the news making process has changed and broadcasters are no longer the most reliable source of news as many would have missed this important African story had there been no twitter.
It also reminded me of Mexico’s Narco News, a blog that relies on citizens to update on what is happening in the country. Recently the blog uploaded a series of stories and photographs of drug gang murders in the country, a story most journalists in Mexico shy away from. This is also a story that the Mexican government wouldn’t want the world to find out about.
I remember earlier in the year when Tunisia and Egypt forced regime changes in their countries through protest marches organised through Facebook and twitter. I think news stations need to be in touch with the majority of citizens of the country’s they serve in order to report the true story. I found it interesting how South African broadcasters sent reporters to North Africa after everyone else had started reporting on the conflicts there.
This trend is not likely to change any time soon as the SABC has shut down shop in Senegal, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Recently reporter Thulasizwe Simalane told his Facebook friends that he was returning from Zimbabwe after spending a few years reporting from that country. Zimbabwe is an African story that is developing and changing colour almost daily but the SABC will probably have to now rely on international broadcasters to find out what is happening there.
Crystal Orderson has been reporting from Cape Town recently after she was also brought back from her posting in the West African country of Senegal. Mahlatse Gallens’ voice can be heard on air again. Gallens once reported on wars, celebrations and conflicts in the DRC. She interviewed survivors of an under-reported war in the North Kivu region of the country, but has also been brought back. At least she was allowed to visit Haiti to cover the damage caused by the Tsunami there.
Adele van Niekerk is also no longer giving us reports from West Africa’s biggest economy and the SABC has relied on foreign broadcasters for the story of the recent post election violence there. Without anybody on the ground it can never be covered properly.
South Africa’s public broadcaster says it’s bringing back its 24 hours news service in October after missing the deadline it had set for April, one wonders how this news channel will be covering the continent with no offices outside South Africa. Recently I have seen New York based Sherwin Bryce-Pease covering certain African stories with a United Nations perspective as they cannot be covered from the continent.
Broadcasters in this country still have a long way to go if they plan to give their viewers a good story with an African perspective. Until that day many of us will rely on citizens and foreign journalists who update minute by minute accounts of events in their cities on Twitter and Facebook.