19 April 2012

Poor Press Coverage in Mali

Gregory Mann bemoans the poor press coverage of the Mali crisis in Africa is a Country.
Take al Jazeera. A few years ago, the Qatari-based chain was the thing, and I hear aspiring movers and shakers still try to publish there. Yet in spite of the fact that al Jazeera was said to be devoting more attention to African stories, its site has not been the place to go for Mali coverage. It has been the place not to go for Mali coverage. Check it out: a couple of round-ups of news stories that bring nothing new, little if any original reporting, and a few weak pieces of analysis, including one that trots out some of the same clichéd thinking that we try to smother in the cradle when we teach African Studies 101 to American undergraduates (e.g., conflict is due to colonial borders that “split tribes [and] lumped incompatible ethnic groups together…”; what are “incompatible ethnic groups”?). What gives?
He goes on to say that the New York Times does not do much better and offers up a few suggestions:
How to get some serious coverage? Here’s one idea. Maybe the next time interim president Dioncounda Traoré goes to Ouagadougou, he should strap a dog to the roof of his car. That seems to merit the attention of the Grey Lady, or at least its editorialists. Unless you’re thinking of the “Arts” section, Mali in and of itself apparently does not. Nor does the fact that over a decade of diplomatic engagement, military training, shadow-boxing in the “war on terror,” and a real war in Libya has failed catastrophically to serve American interests in the Sahel, helping to tear up a secular, multi-ethnic democracy and producing nearly 300,000 refugees and displaced people along the way. You’d think for America’s newspaper of record, there’d be a decent story in there somewhere.
Mann points to a few examples, but is disappointed overall. To what extent is this due to the lack of foreign news offices and correspondents? Mann rightly says that Malian press coverage should not be dismissed, but it is hard to access by an outside audience given that it is produced in a highly localized context. Much like the New York Times is written for an American audience. Is this the standard of reporting that is to be expected going forward? Or is Mann being too harsh?

I tend to think that it will only get worse until news sources figure out a way to make enough money off their reporting to re-open their foreign desks. Hopefully a solution will be found quickly.

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