A BBC report detailing a rare access granted by the Somalia military for British journalists to live a day in the lives of troops battling Al-Shabab militants has angered critics who say the report proves the ill intentions of the western press in Africa.
While it is a welcome development for media agencies to promote the hard work and sacrifice these soldiers offer daily in the battle against insurgency, the critics say the BBC report goes against the statutes and ethos of true journalism. They also claim that the BBC Africa special on Somalia’s ‘lightning’ commando brigade brings to question the true intentions of the western press when reporting news in Africa.
Over the years, foreign media have been criticized for their approach to reporting news about the African continent in the media, with critics saying that they only focus on wars and famine. They argue that the foreign media are bent on painting a negative image of the continent in exchange for traffic and self-actualization gained from contributing to the ‘underdeveloped’ tag on the continent.
Although critics have battled to get hard evidence in the past to back up their claims, they say that the recent BBC report proves that there is an agenda against the African continent perpetuated by the foreign press to control the African media. This, they say, is carried out without zero respect for journalism and empathy.
In the past, there have been cases of western media reports using gruesome images to portray events in Africa or using old misleading photos as leading images for news reports about war, famine, and disease. But critics say nothing is as bad as a media report breaking the journalism code.
Journalists rely on strict codes which help to guide the practice and keep it ethical. Some of the major principles of journalism include truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, accountability, and source protection. It is for the latter that critics have faulted the recent BBC Africa special.
Source protection in journalism aims to protect the identity of a story source. It prohibits authorities, including the courts, from compelling a journalist to reveal the identity of an anonymous source for a story.
Going by comments following the BBC report on the Somali soldiers fighting Al-Shabab militants, critics believe it was wrong of the media agency to publish clear pictures of the faces of the soldiers in the advanced brigade force. They say that the report puts the lives of the soldiers and their families at risk, especially as the report quotes the soldiers (revealing their names) to have led successful attacks on the militant group. Only one of the sources – perhaps a more informed personnel begged to speak on the grounds of anonymity.
The critics believe that the BBC should have taken steps to protect the identity of the soldiers in the report, stating that releasing multiple photos of the faces of the soldiers was an act that not only contradicts the ethos of true journalism, but also put the lives of the soldiers and their families at risk.
Also, some of the critics have faulted the choice of words by the journalist in describing the soldiers in their truck – which he described in his opening sentence as being like porcupines. In another part of the story, he described the soldiers as ‘lean’.
“It is just after five in the morning, and three pickup trucks – each bristling, like porcupines, with a dozen heavily armed soldiers…..”, the writer said in his opening paragraph.
Some critics also pointed out that statements such as this one – “The driver of the middle car, hunched forward over his wheel, changes down a gear to skid round a thorn bush, then flashes a smile and checks his wing-mirror to make sure none of his colleagues, feet dangling over the sides of the vehicle, have fallen off,” were unnecessary in a report of such magnitude.
Also, another critic noted that the decision of the reporter to state repeatedly in the article that the Somalia military brigade was US-funded was an irrelevant point to be hammered upon.
The part of the article that states, “Why such confidence? Part of the explanation lies in Somalia’s current drought – the worst in four decades….” also came under criticism, with some saying that it shows how much the reporter was bent on painting multiple negative reports about the continent at every given opportunity.
However, those who favoured the report argued that although it was wrong to show the faces and reveal the identities of members of the guerilla force, the report highlighted key challenges facing Somalia and the continent at large.
What are your thoughts? Do such reports prove ill intentions of the western press towards the African continent?