India-Africa Media Partnership

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Who’s running the show, really?

Theresa Mallinson

To build a relationship between media in India and Africa, it is the journalists who have to be calling the shots.

If there's one theme that emerged from discussions at the India-Africa Media Partnership Symposium, held in Addis Ababa on 21 May, it's that Africans and Indians alike view each other largely through the prism of third-party reports produced by the Western news agencies.

Tarun Basu, the director of India-Africa Connect made this point when referred to the “four-C prism”, namely “crises, conflict, controversy, and compassion”, through which stereotypes are perpetuated – both in India about Africa, and Africa about India.

The symposium, which was held in the lead-up to the second Africa-India Forum Summit, follows on from several exchanges between journalists from Africa and India during the course of 2011.

But what seems clear, is that engagement between the Indian media, and their counterparts on the African continent, needs to come from bottom up – government-sponsored programmes can take us only so far.

We can begin by asking ourselves: why this focus on building bridges between Africa and India in the first place? To put it bluntly, it's because our rulers have decided that expanding trade will be mutually beneficial. The exercise of strengthening relationships between African and Indian media is undertaken within this framework.

As Waynne Masubayana, deputy head of communication at the AU Commission, said: “As media practitioners, your role is to promote and raise awareness on the different activities that will be carried out jointly by the AU and the Indian government with[in] the framework of the Africa-India partnership.”

With all due respect, that is most emphatically not the role of media practitioners. The journalist's role is much more complex than that: rather than promoting government activities, it is our duty to report the facts, and analyse the analyse the underlying agendas; rather than simply raising awareness, we must investigate and interrogate government activities in-depth, reporting on even those matters that those in power would prefer to keep hidden.

By all means, creating greater understanding between the people of India and Africa is a worthwhile goal. But we have to be careful not to replace our third-party Western lens, with a government-controlled lens, which would mean all we know of each other is little more than propaganda.

While the heterogeneity of the African and Indian media was emphasised at the symposium, there was not much in-depth focus on actually breaking this down. Specifically, the distinction between state-controlled and private media was not much spoken of. Christine Lenzo Nga from the Democratic Republic of Congo national broadcaster, stated that most of the newspapers in her country were “pro-government”, while Lazaro Alfredo Manhica informed delegates that in Mozambique even so-called private newspapers were partly owned by the government. However, this did not result in further discussion as to the limitations of state-controlled media, and how, if at all, these can be overcome.

Until this matter is explored, any relationship between African and Indian media will be formed under false pretences. As Siddharth Vardarajan, the associate editor of The Hindu newspaper, stated: “Free media is important not just to stave off revolution, but is essential for our societies to ensure that you have accountability of government.” Of course, it is incredibly difficult to hold the government to account, when that government is also your paymaster, not to mention in possession of a range of legal arsenal to hinder the journalist's job.

In the late afternoon, a select group of delegates was working on a document containing a set of recommendations for taking the Africa-India media partnership forward. This will be presented to AU and Indian leaders at the end of the summit on 25 May. As they work out ways that Indian and African journalists can pool our human resources, and construct information-sharing portals, these editors must ensure that any such endeavours are truly independent, and not beholden to AU, Indian government, or private corporate interests.

Panos/ Pambazuka News

 

  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit