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Balance on Africa image portrayal in Ireland

The Africa Centre recently called for the need of a balance in the way the developing world, especially Africa is portrayed in Ireland. These sentiments were expressed during a joint Africa Centre – Dochas seminar focusing on the portrayal of the developing world held on September 10th 2009 in the Irish Aid Volunteering and Information Centre, O'Connell Street, Dublin 1.

In his opening remarks, Eric Yao, Coordinator of Africa Centre pointed out that over the years the main aspects of Africa which have been given prominence in the media have been wars, famine, poverty and disease, despite the continents wealth and capacity. Information about the African continent, even if well meaning, can be misleading and damaging. The Africa Also Smiles poster campaign by the Centre and its development education programme has been one of the ways the Africa Centre has challenged negative and stereotypical imaging. Mr Yao emphasised the importance of the Dochas Code of practice on images and messages as a tool in which the developing world can be portrayed in a fair and balanced way.

Angela Long, a Journalist and Media Consultant talked of the use and abuse of media messaging. She said, "We are all working in a media world which gives less and less attention to world affairs, and where millions are more interested in Victoria Beckham's dress than world events. There are therefore major difficulties for us working in a world of celebrity media; we cannot shake our heads and put this phenomena down as 'trash' but need to find opportunities' to use this to get our own world messages across".

She highlighted the fact that television stations were decreasing their coverage of world events: in 2007 ITV ran just 5 hours of programming on developing countries. Foreign news is generally on the wane with many newspapers closing down foreign offices. Major stories can still make the headlines if they are places that westerners might travel for holidays – the occupation of Bangkok airport, the Tsunami. "How therefore can we wean people away from blanket of indifference or ignorance?" Ms Long asked.

There is need to be wary of putting out continuously negative images; they wear away at audiences and do not ultimately get a positive image of global issues across to the public. Too often the 'other' is depicted as 'victim' and this has a cumulative effect on the general public of irritation or negativity.

13 August 2009   


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