The president and CEO of the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa says that important stories about Africa continue to feature less prominently in mainstream American media outlets.
The Africa Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that strives to educate Americans about the richness and diversity of Africa, as well as the economic opportunities that the continent offers.
Bernadette Paolo said, despite the fact that the month of August featured many Africa-related events in Washington, those events did not make the mainstream American media.
She said there is a need to demand positive coverage of Africa by providing the media with information that contrasts with the usual negative stories.
“When you ask students throughout the United States, the first four images that come to mind when they hear the word “Africa” is war, disease, starving children and animals. And, I think that the reporting in the media is primarily negative,” she said.
Paolo said, although there are challenges facing African countries, Americans need to know the contributions the continent is making and the potential it holds.
“When you think about it, many of the mineral resources in the entire world are from the continent of Africa, never mind the fact that the African diaspora in the United States is the highest educated among all immigrant populations. These are facts that never come to the fore through the media,” Paolo said.
She said changes in U.S. foreign policy toward Africa over the years suggest that Africa is getting the attention it warrants from the U.S. government.
But, Paolo said much more needs to be done to improve the negative coverage of the continent in the mainstream U.S. media.
“I think that, with journalists, you have to feed them with information and make them aware of these changes, of the economic development, of a country such as Botswana and others that are making great strides economically, of the number of democracies that are on the continent now, as opposed to 20 years ago,” Paolo said.
Paolo said the responsibility of disseminating positive information about Africa is not solely that of the media, but also the duty of all Africanists through the use of modern technology.
“I think it’s a combined effort of getting more information out there using social media, people who are Africanists, people from the African diaspora, putting things in newspapers, writing letters to the editors. So, the responsibility isn’t solely journalists. It’s all of ours,” she said.
Paolo said she lamented the fact that millions of Americans did not get the chance to meet and see the young people from Africa who attended President Obama’s Forum with African Youth Leaders.
“We had heads of state. We had foreign ministers. In Africa, in August, we had the AGOA Forum. We had these youth leaders that President Obama had here, 115 extraordinary young people with contributions already in their lives that were just mind-boggling. All these things are missed opportunities to have a different picture of African leaders. And so, I think, we seldom have reporting on positive developments such as these,” Paolo said.