Burundi’s media regulator, the National Communication Council (CNC), accused BBC of broadcasting content that “put national cohesion and reconciliation at stake,” while VOA was banned for partnering with some local media houses that had been shut down in 2015.
Critics have come out with the usual cry of the ban being an attack on democracy and free speech. However, there is more to the agenda than democracy and free speech.
The two targeted stations are wholly funded by their government and public funds and it would not be justice if the underlying political connotations and agendas of these media houses are not examined for what they really are. Our democracy is threatened by the very fact that one of the pillars supporting is in the hands of foreigners and we are not in full control of it.
This is a fight that the rest of Africa ought to be taking considering how phony reporting on the continent has been. Western media has often confused factual reporting with being able to paint the worst possible picture of Africa. To them, the only newsworthy items that ought to be reported on Africa are dictators, gunmen, terrorists and natural disasters.
In Oscar Wilde’s words, “We are dominated by Journalism.” The Fourth Estate, as the press is popularly known as, is a societal power, force or institution whose influence is not consistently or officially recognised as such. News reporting wields a lot of social influence that is being used to shape our perceptions of the continent. In news houses they often say that “if it bleeds, it sells.” Unfortunately, in the context of a European journalist’s mind, Africa is always bleeding.
Free speech is a pillar of any functional democracy. However, when it tends to be abused, then the very objective the media is purportedly trying to achieve is threatened. Our naive perception is that the role of the media is to inform, yet in reality the media influences, it exists to push an agenda.
Take a look at how American media was divided during the 2016 election. On one end you had networks such as CNN which are largely viewed as liberal, and on the other hand you had a network such as FOX which leans more to the right. The reporting in itself gives you a clear picture of the main aim of the news reporting, it is not about just providing facts, it is more aimed at pushing the political agenda of the network.
What is infuriating in the context of the report and the documentary aired is that the BBC did not put out substantive evidence to support its “journalism.” Therefore, if they fail to respect the media laws and statutes of Burundi, it is only right that the ban comes into effect and its fully justified.
We all are biased, prejudiced to some extent. There is nothing wrong with that per se as long as were are aware of it and are mindful of our purpose, our obligation as consumers, reporters and makers of news. Neutral, objective and critical gathering of news should apply across the board.
Africa needs to take a stand and not view Western media houses as their champions off free speech and democracy. These are the same media houses that have stood dumbfounded as champions of free speech such as Julian Assange have been abused by their governments. Sadly you will find that reporting on such violations of free speech and open journalism is twisted to shape the agenda that suits the network.
Africa needs to be able to tell its own stories. It needs to take a stand and be able to direct a narrative that is neutral and objective. We should begin holding foreign media more accountable for the reporting they do on the continent and how they choose to tell our story.
Header image credit - Africanews