Thursday, March 26, 2015

Give Africans A Voice

Journalist and author Howard W. French and more than 150 other writers and professors sent a letter to "60 Minutes" faulting the prestigious CBS News program for its "frequent and recurring misrepresentation of the African continent."

"In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible," French, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, wrote in the letter, which was signed by college professors and writers from across America.

French's primary example was Lara Logan's reporting on the Ebola crisis. "In that broadcast, Africans were reduced to the role of silent victims," he wrote. "They constituted what might be called a scenery of misery: people whose thoughts, experiences and actions were treated as if totally without interest.  Liberians were shown within easy speaking range of Logan, including some Liberians whom she spoke about, and yet not a single Liberian was quoted in any capacity." He said he centered on 60 Minutes, specifically, because he found Logan's segment on Ebola "deeply shocking in the way that it eliminated Liberians themselves from the story about the Ebola crisis sweeping that country…"This story came after a fairly extensive debate in the US about the disproportionate attention given to the relatively tiny exposure to Ebola faced in this country, compared to the toll that the disease had generated in a swath of West Africa," he wrote. "Logan proceed nonetheless to outdo the very worst of that kind of unbalanced coverage by going to Liberia and avoiding, or at least failing to broadcast the voices of Liberians -- not even as simple victims, which would have been the easy and stereotypical thing to do."

French also cited two segments "featuring white people who have made it their mission to rescue African wildlife." People of black African descent "make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon," he wrote. French characterized 60 Minutes' coverage of Africa as "narrow, blinkered and anachronistic, like that, unfortunately, of a lot of coverage elsewhere in the press on TV, and indeed in Hollywood, for that matter. Very little interest is accorded to the actual lives of Africans."

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