11 January 2012

Seeing Beyond the River

In December, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) published a video they commissioned on the relationship between the British media and the global south.  The 10 minute video brings forward the not-so-well-kept-secret that "news is about bad news."  When it comes to the global south, there is plenty of bad news to tell.

Take right now.  There is famine in Somalia, war in Somalia, rape in the DRC, war in the DRC, Syrian crackdowns, bombings in Afghanistan, bombings in Iraq, flooding in the Philippines and mudslides in Brazil.  That is only the beginning as I neglected to mention the growing sectarian violence and oil subsidy protests in Nigeria as well as many other places with famine, war and drought (FWD anyone?).

In the video, Richard Kavuma of Uganda's newspaper The Observer describes the way Africa is portrayed to a river.  This river is full of blood, guns, starvation and disease.  These are the stories.  However, he says, there is beauty growing right on the banks of that very river of reporting.  If there ever was a strong simile for Western media's reporting on the global south, this is it.

Teasing it out a bit further, the proximity of the banks are important.  They are impossible to miss, but easy to ignore when concentrating on the flowing river.  Furthermore, it is the banks that are a major determinant of how the river flows.  A narrowing pass forces the water through more quickly while wider portions slow it down and dams can completely control the flow.  There are times when the river overflows, touching all that surround, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, the times that reports look to the banks are when they are consumed by the water.  That is not to say that the terrible things happening that make up the water should be ignored.  Rather it is to say that the banks, the people, have a part in the story.  Ignoring these people not only fails to honestly depict the river scene, it misses the opportunity to understand why the river flows the way that it does and how it can be changed for the better.

HT to Shotgun Shack for the video