Africa is a synonym of ignorance. A continent three times larger than Europe that disappears from newspaper pages. A continent that only stains the paper when misfortunes happen. It may be in the form of the last Ebola attack, the last conflict sponsored by warlords or the enduring famine that makes the continent receive eyes of rejection and grief.
Reporting well about Africa means informing well, with all its good and bad things. "It would be great to pay attention to what young people do, they are transforming Africa. By doing so you donât deny that there are problems of poverty or democracy, " said Amy Sarr Fall, from the magazine Intelligence Magazines of Senegal at the first round table of the II Meeting of Journalists Spain-Africa: other ways of communicating Africa, an event organized by Casa Ăfrica last Friday in Madrid which the Navarra Center for International Development attended.
On that debate, journalists of different kinds discussed what is unknown about Africa. "What the Spanish media doesnât cover is what they donât know," added Zenaida Machado of Human Rights Watch. "What do they not know? There is more on the continent than safaris, anger and wars."
Telling a complex reality through personal stories and using all newspaper sections to inform about Africa is what Gemma Parellada, a freelance journalist who collaborates with media such as CNN and El PaĂs, would do. "It's impossible for you to be interested in something you donât know about. First we have to work so that the audience becomes more familiar with the places and the personal storiesâ, she said in the framework of the second round table, in which the future of Spanish journalism in Africa was debated.
The demographic growth and the boom of urban population also centered part of the day. Seeing Africa as an urban reality is for some an unknown. "We do not realize at times the little knowledge and awareness of it from our readers. We have to part away with the idea about a woman with its baby, which also exists, but there are also women in a suit," said Parellada. On the African continent there are already three megacities above 10 million inhabitants and another five above five million, as well as more than a dozen over one million. And the forecasts are upwards. African cities are the ones that grow the most and it is expected that 60% of its population will live in cities in 2050 when only 15% did so in 1960.
The image of the continent that is projected from the continent goes deep into the vision that citizens have about Africa in Spain. This was expressed by the former basketball player Sitapha SavanĂ© in his inaugural speech of the day: "90% of the information on Africa is war, hunger, poverty, epidemics and safaris."
The 'Africa Brand' and the role of journalists in it was also the subject of debate. Eric Chinke, from the Africa Media Initiative, used as an example the gastronomy as a place for improvement when it comes to projecting the continent: "When I think of Spain, I think of paella, but when I think of Africa, you donât know, and the fact is that you can take delights found nowhere else in the world."
The approach of journalist Alfonso Armada is to increase diversity at home in order to enrich the view of the world and reduce prejudices. "No journalism is possible in Africa without Africans. That is a paternalistic concept. It is never said that Spanish information is made by Spaniards, but we talk about African information by Africans,â assured Xavier Aldekoa, a journalist from La Vanguardia. Armada added that local journalists are the ones which risk the most, since they have nowhere to flee and pay the highest consequences of publishing their information.
Wanafrica was born to avoid distorting the image of the continent with the eyes of a foreign writer. The project by sociologist Edmundo Sepa claims a space for Africans in Spain to tell their realities and express themselves freely. "I started writing because I knew I would do better than the typical Spaniard who goes to a country in Africa for a week and thinks he is an expert," he said.
Among the different ways of counting Africa, El Orden Mundial del Siglo XXI appears as an independent site that dives into the context of situations and offers explanatory maps. One of its founders, Eduardo SaldaĂ±a, said that they seek analysis between journalism and the academy. "We saw that the problem was the basics. In a 2,500-word article about the Nigerian elections, I wouldnât include the last minute information, but I would the context of the last 10 and 20 years," he claimed. Maps that try to explain a reality are added to the stories, an idea that came to them to grab peopleâs attention easily and quickly, since, according to SaldaĂ±a, "many people are not going to read five articles in fifty sites, but will see one image."
The NGOs need for funding also reinforces stereotypes on the continent. "We try not to give that image of the poor, but it's true that we have that battle with the fundraising department that knows that what brings money in is to show the victim," said Alicia GarcĂa of AcciĂłn Contra el Hambre. In order to revert it, many humanitarian organizations offer collaborations to journalists, to whom they pay their trips to be able to make their reports on the conflicts or epidemics and obtain a close image of the reality. Agreements that can be controversial according to journalistic ethics. "It always seems very good to me, but excesses have been committed in limiting the journalistâs independence," said Miguel Ăngel RodrĂguez of the Spanish Red Cross. "News appeared that some organizations took journalists to five-star hotels with a already marked route,â he added.
New technologies have also helped to bring the reality closer to the audience, which has generated countless possibilities when telling stories, but can also pose a danger to the profession, as Rodriguez says. "With the appearance of new technologies, there have been intentions to remove journalists from the equation and to do journalism by yourself. I think that if you ignore the professionals, you make a very serious mistake."
The use of technology and social networks can, however, also be an opportunity to unite the community around a cause. Ivorian cyber activist Cyriac Gbogou was arrested for spreading data about a fireworks accident on New Year's Eve 2012 in his country, but by putting a tweet after his arrest the community mobilized for his right to freedom of expression and he was released in less than 24 hours. "Governments are afraid of the power that internet gives to citizens because they donât control itâ, Gbogou said. âThat is why they block the Internet, because they can decide what is good and what is not for the population,â he commented in a dialogue with Carlos Bajo, a journalist at Wiriko who specializes in information technologies and citizen movements in Africa.
The event organized by Casa Ăfrica also added the story of three photojournalists. The three claimed the power of photographs for storytelling and emphasized the need to get close to the story and get to know it well before taking the camera out of the bag. "You can read a 2,000 word text and you can stay with some ideas, but when you see a powerful image it stays in your head and never goes away," said freelance photojournalist Marta Moreiras. "The images are the ones that build the stereotypes, but they also destroy them." Journalism must assume its key role to offer a complete vision and destroy those stereotypes.