Unbalanced Reporting by Design?
By James Gbatu
May 21, 2001
I read the recent Newsweek article by Jeff Bartholet and William Allen's critique of said article. I think Allen raised some very crucial issues with the Newsweek article. The problem with Western media is not that they are ignorant of the truth about Africa but that they would prefer for that truth to be buried. It would appear that some sections of this media are trying to distance the West from its partial responsibility for the African crisis. The plan seems to be that as long as the world can be made to believe that Africans alone cause the "Big Man in Africa", then the objectives of the media are served. Africa alone is responsible for all of its woes, and the West is only trying to help the self-inflicted victims! Inasmuch as such a view can be successfully imposed on the masses of American and European societies, then Western governments, international financial institutions, and private transnational corporations remain safe and blameless in their economic plunder and political marginalization of the continent.
This view of Africa as being a "penchant for violence", which insinuates that Africans are inherently a violent people, is racist (irregardless of the skin color of the person who holds it). It is essentially the same types of pretexts, predicated on false theories of racial superiority, that Europeans advanced in the 15th and 19th centuries to justify their slave "trade" and colonial imposition on African and other peoples.
The time is overdue for Western journalists and "experts" to cease their deep-rooted prejudice against Africa. Is it an honest or "expert" reporting when one deliberately avoids other equally important dimensions of a story and focuses instead on only a narrow range of issues that fit into his/her ideological schema? Even if one disregards the persisting social, economic, and political impacts of European slavery and colonial plunder on Africa, the contemporary behavior of the West towards Africa is still a substantial culprit. It is as responsible for Africa's current marginalization and poverty as that of the corrupt and violent domestic tyrants on the continent. Any analysis that fails to account for both of these dimensions of the African crisis is worthless. It is merely designed to absorb others of their responsibility or to simply play into and compound the ignorance of Westerners about Africa.
Is the Newsweek writer not aware of the role the US and other Western countries played in staging and legitimizing the 1997 election of Taylor? Or how about, for example, the US' open support and approval of the 1985 election results that legitimized the Doe dictatorship? The United States and other western countries openly sanctioned those results, claiming that the elections were "free and fair", even though the opposite was clearly true. As a journalist, Bartholet should know and agree with Allen that the Jonas Savimbis and the Mobutus of Africa could not have remained functional without the generous political and economic backing of the West. Doesn't he believe that the US$500 million military/economic aid given to the Doe tyranny by Reagan had a part in hardening that dictatorship and thus setting stage for the present Liberian imbroglio? Ronald Reagan provided military support to the Doe regime, even as it violently suppressed all human rights. Probably, without that support the Doe government would have allowed some human rights in the country, and Liberia would not have fallen in the hands of "Big Man" Taylor. Even as we speak, some Western governments and business interests, such as France, for example, are abetting the plunder of Liberia's tropical forests, all under the name of "peaceful" international trade and business. The writer's failure or refusal to include these other sides of the issue in his analysis clearly validates Allen's argument that he engages in selective and unbalanced reporting.