Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Red Indians and Negroes

OSLO - I just came out of a two-day dialogue we've been having on covering diversity in the media. The view from the venue, the Soria Moria resort up on a mountain overlooking the Norwegian capital, is stunning, but so have the revelations from journalists within the conference centre.

This dialogue, initiated by the governments of Norway and Indonesia, came out of the Prophet Muhammed cartoon controversy when angry Muslims across the world rioted and demonstrated to protest the appearance, in a Danish publication, of cartoons that they said portrayed the leader of their faith in bad light.

There is a new study out on the cartoon controversy and how it was covered in 14 countries across the world. It is a thickish document that I will read over the next coupla days, but the controversy showed how the media is struggling to catch up with globalisation.

Journalists are no longer writing for local audiences. A story written in Malawi can and will be picked up off the internet and read by people across the world. While it might not offend the sensibilities of local audiences, it sometimes can offend those of people for which it might not have been intended in the first place, as the cartoons appear to have done.

So hacks from about 60 countries have been sharing experiences on how to report diversity and not our differences. In otherwords, how to be sensitive to minorities and to other cultures and beliefs that may be different to our own.

On reflection, it reminds me of some of the stories carried in the Ugandan papers talking about an "Asian businessman" or describing people by their tribe, as if that can explain their actions. Sometimes it does (the unfortunate soul lynched by a mob during the anti-Mabira demonstrations appears to have been, at least in part, a victim of his Asian ethnicity. Most times, however, it is journalists and other commentators sub-consciously playing identity politics; seeking understanding in our differences, rather than accepting the diversity that the world thrusts upon us as it comes closer.

It will not happen overnight, neither will perceptions change so fast. On Monday night we were entertained by Queendom, a group of five young Norwegian women, all of African ethnicity with hilarious skits about immigration to Norway (a full review of the group will run in The EastAfrican later this month or early next). In one of their skits, they read from real stories run in Norwegian newspapers, including one in which a university professor, no less, addressed an African as a Negro.

Such overt and covert racism remains across the world and many of us have been on the receiving end (including a British cop who once racially insulted me and my brother in Tottenham as we tried to find a pub to watch a football game). The shocking thing is how it is perpetuated in and by the mainstream media.

I have always been irked by tke fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict appears in the international press almost everyday while conflicts in Burundi, DR Congo, Darfur, northern Uganda, etc, rarely do, despite the death toll being much higher in those places.

The answer is that the international media, a lot of the time, reports the news for and in the way their audiences (i.e people like them back in the west) want to see it. The emergence of alternative media outlets on the internet, through blogs and through al-Jazeera appears, at least in part, an attempt by other people to tell their stories their way.

Unless mainstream media can learn to cover diverse issues (and reflect the diversity of their audiences through their newsrooms and coverage), many audience members will seek their information elsewhere.

Oh, well, enough rambling. It is off to the SS Johanna for an evening sail from RĂ„dhusbryggen through the fjords. Good food, free wine, a diverse cultural crowd and the sun that won't set until about midnight. Surely a man can enjoy a few such moments, no?


Blogger Scarlett Lion said...

Why is the only story out of Uganda covered by the international media the LRA? Not that it isn't an important story, but there are just so many others... I'm with you on this one, though I think that it's less individual journalists conforming to what the west wants to eat up and more what the media houses will buy.

6:18 am  
Blogger Scarlett Lion said...

Why is the only story that comes out of Uganda onto the international stage the LRA saga? Not that it isn't important, but there's just so much else out there... I'm with you on this one, though I disagree that it's about individual journalists reinforcing identity politics and think it has much more to do with what the media houses will buy.

6:20 am  
Anonymous Ever living said...

Sounds like a first timer in Oslo, let alone Scandinavia, enjoy it! Some advice; don't compare beer or any other rates, you may fail to do the fun things you deserve while there, a friend of mine insists it's culture shock for Africans ( or is it Ugandans?) to compare....

Then your conference and the cartoon, see the Danish paper that published it in the first place insisted on its rights as well,(in fact others in France republished the cartoon as an expression of their support for the Danish paper and their freedoms) and of course all in a diverse global village. Which brings me to my issue, diversifying is not only about the disadvantaged position of those feeling aggrieved (like you and your brother in Tottenham or the negro student, rather about the person in such a position realising that others are coming from a totally different background and understanding. So,it has also to do with the so-to-speak, better placed in a situation. In other words, one fits well in the globalised or diversified society if they desist from victimising themselves but appreciate that the other person only has a different understanding of things, after all you can not change this, the other person (read for eg Danish cartoonist or the professor) will never be sorry. Infact it is laughable to expect them to in a diverse society where others support them. Bottom line, any coin has two sides!
Eeeeeh, this ain't another lecture at that conference, go on drink some, actually alot,don't miss out on the nightly sunny carnivores.....

12:45 pm  
Blogger Daniel Kalinaki said...

Scarlet Lion, I don't think that the international media only covers LRA out of Uganda. They have touched the elections, HIV/Aids, Idi Amin, LKOS, etc; the point is that the coverage of these and any other stories, both in Uganda and many other countries that are off-the-beaten track, is often fleeting, spurious and superficial.

Ever living, you are right on a few things, including that being my first visit to Scandnavia. I also agree to the notion of the freedom of speech and expression. What I disagree with is the idea that the ignorance that informs some of those obnoxious views should be allowed to fester.

I do not carry a victim mentality and I understand that everyone, myself included, brings subjective baggage to the table. The issue at stake is that I understand and respect the beliefs and views of other people -- and that they do mine.

I may not agree with their views -- and I would be surprised if they agreed with mine -- but I would respect them. In otherwords, a globalised and diversified world does not mean having a uniform understanding of issues, but of respecting the divergent views of others and exercising restraint and sensitivity with ours.

1:07 pm  
Anonymous ever living said...

On allowing ignorance to fester,far from agreeing with,i think this is also true for those who come to the table expecting their emotions to always be catered for by others,that too is obnoxious, which i doubt has a place in a diversified world. Better to be openminded and give the benefit even where it appears unworthy, i can bet (hmmmm) my this month salary, you are better off with such an attitude in this diversifying era. C'mon we may discuss diversifying and being sensitive to others at conferences and meetings but in the real world, we know it's mumbled up, and not many will leave up to that in their reportage especially in countries like Sweden, Denmark and Norway where the freedoms are so entrenched.
By the way for a sustainable global village, not allowing the obnoxious ignorant views should start within our homes and among our friends and/or acquaintances....

For the record, neither before your response nor now am i in support of ignorance informing obnoxious views, maybe my point of departure after settling that is, ignorance can be borne from the mind of either party at the discussion table, while such party believes it is the other who's a victim of ignorance.
Some pple will insist such people who victimise themselves are not coming to equity with clean hands...
And in a global society with all the differences, what is respect/where does it begin, how about exercising restraint and sensitivity, who determines a derogation, doesn't diversifying requirie seeing these as relative and subjective and just that?

So young man, get out and live it up, emotions aside.....

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea of diversity, just like the "global village" itself, will remain utopian, because society is simply not fashioned to be linear.

The concept of identity is based on exclusion. BY including some, you inevitably exclude others.
Tensions, rifts and conflicts have always existed at the individual, group, community and national, and now global level. Take Uganda for example. Accusations have been and continue to be slung at some tribes (I will not name here, lest I am accused of tribalism)for allegedly being diversionary, sectarian, narccist, cessationist etc.

While I agree, we should observe the code of human decency and respect difference, we need to accept that some people may never see the light, primarily because they are DIFFERENT from us and have different values, backgrounds, experiences etc. This connundrum was ably demonstrated by the divergent opinion towards the cartoon affair.

In this debate, I must say, there are no off-the-shelf solutions. In trying to be sensitive and culturally diverse, there is always the danger of infringing on other people's right to free expression and opinion. And that can only fester resentment and further alienation in the long term.

The middle ground position is for each to mind their own. If the western media does not want to sufficiently cover the LRA, we shouldn't crucify them for that. They didn't start the conflict. We should instead condemn those who have been at the centre of this bloodshed by not continously voting them back into government.

We need to stop expecting the West to come to our rescue.We need to learn to do our own thing, rather than play the proverbial victim. More importantly, let us not dig ourselves into situations from which we cannot pull ourselves out of.

I find it ironical that in the few rare cases that the West has come to our rescue (such as budgetary support), some of our leaders have turned around and accused them of imperialism, immorality, among other things.

7:54 pm  
Blogger Daniel Kalinaki said...

I am happy that this has generated some healthy debate. I do not expect people to be (or behave) the same.

As a journalist, however, I believe it is important for me to try and understand those issues that are important to the subjects that I cover. I don't have to accept; I don't have to agree; I don't have to conform. But I have to understand.

The old narratives are dead. One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter. What some people consider fundamentalism, others regard as strong, unwavering faith.

Of course, Anonymous, the bigger issue over the LRA is why it started (and has not ended) and not how the foreign media cover it. However, many people (who could bring pressure to bear and help end the war) are looking to the international media for understanding of the conflict.

That is why I think -- and told the Oslo conference as much -- that it is not a debate about symbolism, but one about good journalism -- that which not just informs but also provides depth, background and context in order to educate!

8:10 pm  
Anonymous Sheila K said...

Daniel, there isn't much difference between sumbolism and so-called "good journalism". In choosing to portray one event over another, or quote some people and not others, you are "representing" or "symbolising" what you the writer considers to be reality.

But without getting sucked into what counts as symbolism or not, I can only say that contrary to your argument, the people who can bring pressure to bear and end the LRA war for instance, may not necessarily have to rely how well the international media has covered to known to (a) get information about the conflict and (b) decide on the basis of that information to intervene.

That does not mean that international media coverage is for naught. Certainly, it raises awareness, and some cases even contributing to international action such as the in case of Bosnia.

But the real consideration is, whether there are other underlying factors other than just mindless bloodshed, injustice etc. I know this may sound banal, but that is the sad truth. When Rwanda plunged into the genocide, much of the West just ignored the conflict because there was really nothing worth risking their lives for. But when hell broke loose in Darfur, the UN rushed to make resolutions blah blah blah. And much as I would like to credit the international media's reportage of the conflict for the current international interest in this region, the cynic in me thinks there is a lot more at stake (or rather more to gain) in this conflict than just empathy for the thousands who have been butchered thus far.

Daniel, like you, I certainly believe that the media should as much as possible try to cover all sides of a story, fairly, accurately and hopefully, objectively!! But we sometimes need to be flexible and accepting of those who may fall short of fulfilling these ideals.

That to me is the the crux of diversity - not just in the plurality of ideas available in the journalistic marketplace but also the different ways an issue may be differently covered by different media in different countries, accross different media platforms!

10:42 pm  
Anonymous xoxo said...

I agree with ever living entirely, and anonymous for the most part except where she/he says that some people fail to see the light just because they are different. Here anonymous is totally off the mark- being different does not amount to 'never seeing the light.'(Whose/which light; maybe their different choice is well-informed such that it is you who has not seen the light by remaining ignorant to this fact?) Infact anyone with a clear understanding of the pedagogical jurisprudence of rights and freedoms associated with expression and free speech would tell you that to think so is to squarely satisfy the requirements of ignorant obnoxious thinking, the type that Daniel explains, even though i don't agree with some of his conclusions .

Then, anonymous chooses not to name tribes at which accusations are slung for fear of being branded tribalist and more but he/she knows of these accusations, right? Now, if one chooses to name Bagisu Basoga, Baganda or Indians in Uganda for what is levelled at them- to put his/her point across and anonymous doesn't because of his/her fears yet may be more convicted by the tribal accusations than the other person, the likes of anonymous will call the other person tribalist while anonymous is infact the tribalist. Isn't that hypocritical sensitivity on the part of anonymous, by the way that is how apartheid in SA festered in its last about ten years!
I think ever living relays the issues fairly and honestly, i thank him/her, and all of you for an intelligent discussion.

7:35 am  
Blogger Daniel Kalinaki said...

Sheila K,

Of course every piece of journalism brings subjective baggage to the table and to the story. Of course.

My argument is not that we should pretend to be the same or objective (I notice you say, later in your piece, that good journalism should be objective; I don't think there is anything like objective journalism. Fair? Balanced? Yes. Objective? I don't think so).

Anyway, my point is that we need to understand other people better, understand why they do the things they do and, in the case of journalists, report those observations with sufficient context and perspective.

Thus, I would want to know if the university don who referred to a black man as a 'negro' did so out of spite, because he spends so little time in the sun and thinks it is still 1930, was trying to be street smart, or simply does not know.

What I find hard to accept is the notion that because we are different, we should slog through this global village, every tribe/race/people/country, etc for itself.

Of course individuals might chose to retain their knowledge and view of the world -- it is their right. Others might even choose to propagate their flawed or inaccurate views. To nick Voltaire, I might disagree with what they say, but I defend to the death their right to say it.

But those of us in the self-appointed industry of serving the public interest must give both sides of the story and help shape an accurate and informed view of the world.

P.S What insight from the blogsphere!

11:19 am  

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