Afriethics

Exploring Afriethics: Insights from the Africa Media Festival 2024

Aspen Initiative Africa attended a 3-hour systems-thinking workshop on media viability at the Annual Media Festival by Baraza Media Lab from 21st to 22nd February 2024 at the Nairobi National Museum, Kenya.

As part of our program on the Future of Journalism in Africa, Dr Laila Macharia, AIA-N Founding Director, and Patrick Gathara, Senior Editor for Inclusive Storytelling at The New Humanitarian led a discussion on Afriethics: What Does it Mean for Media Ethics and Standards to be African? Attendees discussed the need to challenge Western journalistic norms and establish an African ethic in journalism.

A Deep Dive into Afriethics

Renowned journalism professor and press freedom advocate, Francis Kasoma’s work on Afriethics formed the basis of the discussion on society-centred media morality. 

African journalism is driven by individualistic and divisive tendencies, which depart from traditional African values. Regrettably, many African journalists engage in corruption, catering to political interests and succumbing to bribery.

According to Kasoma, African newsrooms imitate Western norms viewing them as the epitome of good journalism. There is also a belief that journalism cannot have African ethical roots without losing its global validity.

As one of the founders of the Press Association of Zambia, Kasoma’s views were greatly influenced by Africa’s post-colonial media landscape. In colonial Kenya for instance, the initial media outlets predominantly served the interests of missionaries and white settler colonists. However, nationalists and immigrant workers soon entered the scene, establishing publications tailored to their respective audiences.

In the aftermath of Western colonialism, state broadcasters assumed control of the media landscape, employing it as a tool for authoritarian governance. Traditional forms of oral storytelling and visual performances were marginalized, and supplanted by Western content formats and ethical standards.

African narratives increasingly fell under the purview of Westerners, disseminated through syndication services and foreign correspondents. It became imperative for Africa to cultivate its own media industry and revert to the ethical checks and balances inherent in African society.

Kasoma argues that Africa’s humane approach to life has the potential to revitalize both global and African press. African journalists can inject new vitality into their profession by prioritizing a society-centred approach over one centred on money and power.

Critics suggest that Kasoma’s views are outdated, accusing him of promoting African exceptionalism and idealising Africa as inherently more egalitarian, community-oriented, and morally superior to the West.

Yet, throughout history, humanity has arrived at a consensus on various topics, ranging from human rights and chocolate to democracy and Michael Jackson. Ethical standards also fall within this realm of collective agreement.

Even though we all – both the West and the Rest – need to improve on the principles and practices of journalistic ethics, we should consider these a global, human work in progress, not criticize them just because they emanate from the West. For instance, principles such as independence, and integrity, all under the banner of ‘do no harm’,  are not exclusive to the West but represent evolving human aspirations.

Additionally, the world has evolved considerably since Kasoma’s initial contributions. For one, with the advent of social media, people all over the world can tell their stories directly to a global audience. For better or worse, power has been deregulated and decentralized away from those big, deep-pocketed media houses and into the hands of the people, so that different communities and cultures can tell stories their way.

For another, even in the large global media houses, though there is still more ground to be covered, the people behind the camera are increasingly diverse. More and more, the person behind the camera is female or from an ethnic minority. Given this shifting landscape, what role does a foreign correspondent play?

Africans of all stripes have much to offer in the field of global media ethics. First, we can help refine Eurocentric definitions of abstract concepts like truth, independence and integrity, based on our philosophy and contemporary lived experience. 

Second, we have innovations that can help inform modern modes of media. For example, Africans have strong oral, musical, and communal modes of storytelling and communication that can see fresh applications in the digital age. 

These new and not-so-new modes could be brought into the global mainstream to the benefit of everyone. Of course, we need to be honest that with online and digital media now fragmented and decentralized, we are now seeing some of the challenges that emerge when you let everybody tell their own story without a centralized or communal way of holding storytellers to account. 

Our ‘anything goes’ approach to news undermines truth in many cases and is hardly the utopia we imagined. Should media and storytelling be regulated or mediated in some way?

Have we swung too far to the other extreme?

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