Today Germany’s biggest selling newspaper Bild handed over the editorial reins to Bob Geldof – and he splashed it with an image of a starving child and the headline ‘End this! Now!’. Richard M Kavuma checks it out from Kampala.
Looking at Bob Geldof’s guest edition of Bild Zeitung today, the first thing I thought of was the old accusation against Western media for only seeing the rotting side of Africa.
Initially I thought Geldof’s edition was perpetuating that stereotype and my reaction was: “Oh my God, where and when was this picture of a dying child taken?”
But then today’s edition also has positive stories about, for instance, the beautiful South Africa, the Kaizer Chiefs football club, African models… the list is endless.
I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the accusation that the West does nothing but portray the negative side of Africa anyway – partly because it’s not very accurate. You still find a lot positive stories about Africa in Western media – it’s just that the negative stories make for bigger headlines.
Then again, the same goes for newspapers in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. The headlines tend to be ‘negative’ stories about top government officials who steal money meant to immunise children, or about a government shooting and beating up its citizens who are fighting for the right to expression.
But if you care to look at these papers more closely you also find – inside – stories about a hospital being opened in a rural area or trade agreements being sealed. That’s the nature of newspapers.
The debate within me today was: Should Geldof have led with a more positive spin so as to avoid the ‘stereotype’? Or will this drive the message home to Germans that Africa is in trouble? And, in any case, is Africa a passive victim of the processes that have led to this misery?
Whenever I’m faced with this quandary, I think of the following scenario:
Imagine you are walking on a path through the African countryside and you come to a large village. At one end of the village, a graduation party is taking place for a young woman who just got her medical degree. At the other end, a woman is on the verge of dying in labour - partly because there are no doctors in the local health centre or, perhaps, because the resident midwife is celebrating at the graduation party.
Which news would you communicate first? The graduation party so that the other villagers can join in? Or would you rather report about the mother in labour so that perhaps someone can help or the midwife can come to her senses?
Geldof chose the latter, but later reported the party as well. I would have done the same.