Magazine article Anglican Journal

Critical Look at Media Issues in Africa: `A Text of Context Is Just a Pretext'

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Critical Look at Media Issues in Africa: `A Text of Context Is Just a Pretext'

Article excerpt

THE POLITICAL CRISIS in the Great Lakes region of central Africa which started in October 1993 with the assassination of the then newly elected president of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, and the massacres that followed is not about to be forgotten in the near future.

The swiftness with which the massacres were conducted in Burundi, combined with the fact that they took place in the countryside, did not allow international coverage. Later, a UN report named it as a genocide against Tutsis in Burundi. Only six months later another genocide, again directed against Tutsis, in Rwanda, would take almost one million lives. In Rwanda, the UN knew about the genocide plan. Cameras were present and the slaughtering of one million Rwandans was reported live all over the world.

The indifference of the world was intolerable and the helplessness of the UN troops was suffocating.

Two years later, a rebellion was erupting in Zaire vowing to topple three decades of President Mobutu Sese Seko's dictatorship. Today Mobutu is in exile and Laurent Kabila is the chief of what started as a rebellion of barefooted teenagers, and is the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire.

In covering this end-of-century human tragedy, media have been criticized for using biased and stereotypical epithets such as "tribal" and "primitive" to describe the conflicts which have generated this tragedy. Were media helpful in understanding the causes of this tragedy? How much context was included in the reporting of this crisis?

To find an answer to these questions, an attentive public gathered the evening of June 19, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto to listen to Paul Knox, foreign editor of the Globe and Mail, Peter Goodspeed, foreign editor of the Toronto Star, and John Kamanzi, president of l'Association des canadiens d'origine rwandaise (Ottawa). These media personalities and community leaders were invited by the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa and the Rwandan Canadian Cultural Association to give a chance for the public to meet face to face with them.

With a few words of introduction, the moderator, Omega Bula of the United Church, gave the floor to Mr. Knox.

Mr. Knox acknowledged the shortcomings of the coverage but was not apologetic. He compared a newspaper to a "dictionary more than an encyclopedia. It only gives you an idea of the magnitude of events." He argued that the Globe and Mail has limited resources and recognized that there is room for improvement with the help of readers. …

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