Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 176-178
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For some time now, Africa's image in Western news media has come under a good deal of scrutiny. In the case of Africa, media interest seems to correspond closely with conflict and crisis. Research on international news coverage suggests that, of all of the world's regions, Africa receives the least attention. Of course, getting the story out of Africa is not always easy. Re-porters, both domestic and international, must contend with sources reluctant to speak for fear of their own safety, difficult travel conditions, censorship, and inadequate communication facilities that make transmitting story, at times, nearly impossible. In addition to these daily reporting problems, media organizations, in a period of dwindling commitment to international reporting, must make large financial pledges to maintain a correspondent in Africa.
As study after study reveals, however, when Western media do cover African countries and peoples, stories are often conceived in a very narrow focus. Most commonly, media coverage represents an Africa enmeshed in a series of imbroglios stemming from ethnic violence (Nwosu 1987; Hawk 1992; Fair 1993; Ogundimu and Fair 1997). Tim Allen and Jean Seaton's edited volume, The Media of Conflict, provides further evidence of the limited scope within which Africa is portrayed. However, the book is not just about Africa's media image. It engages with larger questions about the ways ethnicity encourages a reporting of conflict that fundamentally dismisses local historical, political, and economic specificities in favor of a view of conflict rooted in primordial sentiments of social difference.
The chapters that make up the volume were collected by a group of British anthropologists and sociologists called the Forum Against Ethnic Violence. The group was formed in reaction to concerns about how news media tended to treat ethnicity as the sole cause and explanation of various conflicts worldwide. The Forum's aim was to provide news organizations with alternative understandings about why conflict occurs, and how ethnicity does and does not figure into war and violence.
Divided into two parts, The Media of Conflict does not seek to blame news media for diffusing stereotypical, often sensational, and narrow images of conflict. Rather, the book's objective is to explore why both journalists and audiences alike find ethnicity to be a satisfactory and complete explanation of conflict portrayed in the non-Western world.
The first five chapters of the volume examine various conceptual issues related to how notions of ethnicity inform war reporting. Tim Allen's introductory chapter outlines how journalists have used ethnicity to explain conflict, and suggests how journalists (as well as policy makers and activists) might alternatively reframe contemporary warfare in terms of historical, political, and economic explanations. The following three chapters expand Allen's discussion of media-generated perceptions of war. The [End Page 176] second chapter, by Jean Seaton, raises the important issue of what hap-pens to international response to conflict when such violence is represented as having no cause other than some diffuse, but long standing, ethnic hatred. Her concern is that conflict, once labeled as ethnic, appears intractable and therefore absolves the international community from responsibility and action. In Chapters Three and Four, Richard Fardon and David Keen suggest that ethnicity is used all too often by news media to blame those involved in conflicts for their troubles. Fardon wants to know whether news stories record ethnicity or produce it. Similarly, Keen notes that while ethnicity's role in conflicts cannot be ignored, reporters need fuller understandings of the relationship between various collective identities and political and economic struggles. Last in this section is Peter Loizos's chapter about three ethnographic documentaries in which he presents an ethical framework for producing and viewing images of violence.
Nine case studies of media coverage of conflict form the second half of the book. Of those nine chapters, five explore Africa-based conflicts. (Other chapters deal with...