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Transformation of the narrative is what counts

Independent Media has striven to develop a narrative more in line with that of the global South, writes Independent Foreign Editor Shannon Ebrahim.
Shannon Ebrahim
Shannon Ebrahim
The charge that the media in South Africa remains largely untransformed is a refrain that continues to be heard throughout the corridors of power.

One cannot speak for other media houses without intimate knowledge of their internal dynamics, but Independent Media has pushed forward with an aggressive transformation campaign over the past two years - not one based on race, but on the message and the narrative.

Whereas the media group largely reflected a Western and neo-liberal narrative under its previous ownership, it has striven to develop one more in line with the thinking not only of our own masses, but that of the global South.

It is a message which places Africans and Africa at the centre of its paradigm.

To accomplish this, we needed to empower more voices from our communities to tell their own stories, from whichever political perspective they come.

Not only have we introduced new, progressive columnists from a variety of backgrounds to comment on domestic issues, but we have expanded the focus of our foreign coverage.

While our country took the major step of joining Brics in 2010, the political perspectives that underlie such an alliance were not adequately reflected in our coverage.

To remedy this, over the past two years we have taken steps to ensure that voices from the Brics countries are given greater space on our various media platforms.

This has resulted in immensely positive feedback from the public who have appreciated the effort to bring a myriad of new, progressive voices.

Within the past year alone, we have introduced regular analysis from stringers in Moscow and Delhi, and have used news wire copy from the Chinese news agency Xinhua, as well as the Russian news agency Sputnik. And we recently secured an agreement from the progressive Latin American news agency Telesur to use its copy, as well as the Ma’an News agency in Bethlehem. To bolster our coverage of Africa, we have made regular use of the copy provided by the newly formed Africa News Agency (ANA) whose presence on the ground in five locales on the continent has enabled us to access news first-hand on African crises and developments told from African perspectives.

This is all happening at a time when news organisations generally are constricting under financial pressure, and relying solely on Western news copy to save money. Even news about Africa is dominated by the Western press agencies. As a matter of principle, we have avoided this trap and expanded our stringer pool across the continent and the world, and have retained the position of a foreign editor - the only print media company in South Africa to do so.

These are important developments as for decades our company relied solely on Western news agencies to provide the global narrative - specifically Reuters, Associated Press, the Washington Post, and the UK’s Independent.

While we still use copy from all of these agencies, it was important to supplement them with other narratives from Africa and the developing South.

The way in which the Washington Post views what is happening in Venezuela and Cuba, for example, is not necessarily the same perspective the Brics countries will have of the same events.

Similarly, views expressed in the UK Independent on Zimbabwe or Rwanda might contrast with those held by Africans themselves.

Previously our readers were never exposed to Chinese perspectives, either of China or the world. This is hard to imagine given China’s position as potentially the world’s next superpower.

The quality of news on China and on the African continent provided by Xinhua has proven remarkably balanced and insightful, at times more so than the competition.

All news wires will tend to reflect a particular world view, but why should we only view the contestation in the South China Sea, for example, from the view of the Western news wires? Why not also from the Chinese themselves?

There are also developments, specifically on our own continent, the truth of which is difficult to find on any news wires. In those cases, we are making every effort to go and get the story ourselves.

Burundi was one such example where the narrative was largely emanating from the Western news wires and press, when it was covered at all. The difficulty in accessing the truth was compounded by the fact that NGOs and journalists did not have easy access to either government officials or the victims of human rights abuses, making it difficult to ascertain the true reality.

With headlines talking about a potential slide towards genocide, it was critical to get the story right, and to provide early warning to policy-makers. We did this by going into Burundi and interviewing an array of senior officials, people on the ground, and by going into the region to interview refugees, media and human rights activists who had fled to neighbouring countries.

We need this type of reporting to find African solutions to African problems.In the end, the transformation agenda is about creating balance, and it will not always please everyone, but few can argue with the importance of increasing the number of divergent perspectives to enhance the richness of the debate.

As Madiba said: “It is the broad spectrum of thought and opinion in the world that has for too long been suffocated by the narrative of an elite Western few who have controlled the way we view the world.”

16 May 2016 15:23


About the author

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor at Independent Media.


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