Ebonylife TV: Retelling Africa

By Modupeola Oyebolu

The narrative will glorify the hunter until the lion learns how to write.

Many Africans dislike the coverage of their continent by the American and European media. Komla Dumor, a well-liked BBC correspondent who died suddenly earlier this year, ended a December 2012 TED talk on this issue with some great advice: Africans must tell their own stories. As if in response to Dumor’s counsel, Ebonylife TV was launched in Calabar, Nigeria, on the 1st of July, 2013. “We believe it’s time for Africa to tell its own story, from its own perspective,” the network’s website says, describing its driving motivation.

Ebonylife TV is the brainchild of Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, a Nigerian talk show host and TV producer. Abudu was a successful human resources executive with Exxon Mobil before her foray into the media industry, according to a profile of her featured in The Independent. Her talk show, “Moments with Mo,” was the first syndicated daily talk show that aired on MNet, a South African cable network that has audiences across Africa.

Despite the talk show’s success, Abudu had a bigger vision in mind. She wanted to start a network that would be dedicated to showing the Africa that she knew and loved. Abudu was motivated by her frustration with negative perceptions of Africa that she had encountered in her interactions with non-Africans. During a segment of “Moments with Mo,” for example, she stood at London’s Marble Arch asking people what came to mind when they heard the word “Africa.” Abudu got all kinds of responses, including mentions of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, giraffes, safaris, and poverty.

“I think the nicest thing I got was sunshine,” she told Etan Smallman of The Independent. It is not that giraffes, safaris and poverty do not exist in Africa, Abudu just thinks, like many Africans, that it is important to share other narratives of the continent. “We watch Hollywood as if all of America is Hollywood,” she said in another interview with the Associated Press. “In that same vein we need to start selling the good bits of Africa.”

Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, the creator of Ebonylife TV in Nigeria

Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, the creator of Ebonylife TV in Nigeria

Ebonylife TV is targeted at young people who it describes as “the custodians of the present and the future.” The network airs mostly original African content including series, short films, and talk shows. Other shows are western programs adapted for local audiences. For instance, The Fattening Room, fuses a tradition of the Efik ethnic group of Nigeria preparing women for marriage with the western reality show format. The network has also bought rights to Desperate Housewives from Disney and plans to make its own version of the show, Desperate Housewives Africa.

In an interview at an African media industry event, Abudu said she had been asked on BBC radio if these western formats could truly cater to an African audience. She insisted that African audiences are not different from any others. “I told them, ‘do you think we, as Africans, don’t have the same aspirations and obsessions, and passions as anyone else?’ I said ‘we have that!’ There’s no point re-inventing the wheel, this [Desperate Housewives] was one of the top-selling, award winning series in America. Let’s take that story, let’s localize it and then let’s make it our own,” she said.

Comments on social media suggest that Ebonylife TV is well received by the African public. The network’s Facebook page receives compliments from various parts of the continent from Zambia to Namibia and Ghana. Of course, the network is not without its critics, but the staff stay on top of responding to comments, clarifying misunderstandings and apologizing for errors. They also look frequently for feedback on the reception of their content. If Ebonylife TV can maintain and incorporate knowledge from this engagement with its audience, it is likely to grow into the pan-African force that it envisions itself to be. This will allow the network to provide a new narrative that truly represents all of Africa and will help demonstrate the diversity and complexity of the continent to the rest of the world.

Image from Nkemonwudiwe at en.wikipedia  via Wikimedia Commons, at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mosunmola_Abudu_1.jpg


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Rousseff Returns as Brazil’s President

By Kaye Adoo

In a historic presidential election four years ago, Brazilians welcomed their first female president, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff ran for re-election on Oct. 5 against 11 candidates, including another woman, environmentalist Marina Silva from the Brazilian Socialist Party. Since no candidate in the presidential election received more than 50 percent of the vote, a second-round runoff was held Oct. 26 to decide if Rousseff or Aecio Neves, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, would be the next president. Both runoff candidates campaigned for Silva’s endorsement and the 21 percent of voters who had supported her, according to Reuters.

The runoff was a battle between two politicians with two opposing visions for Brazil, Reuters reported. The state-led capitalism of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), and the market-friendly policies promised by Neves and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT and PSDB are the nation’s two largest political parties that have governed Brazil for 20 years.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff

Expectations for Rousseff and a PT victory were high. Rousseff’s past performance as the chief of staff to former President Lula da Silva, and her tenure as president had given her experience in running the executive branch, supporters said. Under her leadership, electricity became accessible in most areas, including many rural areas, through the “Luz Para Todos” (Light for All) program, according to CNN.com.

Rousseff’s leadership also provided an increase in educational attainment levels and moved more Brazilians into the middle class, according to the National Housing Survey and a study by Brazil’s Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE), which compiles economic and social inclusion statistics. In education, the level of underage children in the workforce (5-13 years) dropped considerably to 10.6 percent. In 2013, the nation experienced 96 percent of its children attending school full-time, the study said.

These numbers are due to a government policy that required poor families to keep their children in school in order to receive federal assistance. As a result of this, Brazil realized its lowest recorded rate of illiteracy, and the number of children aged 4 and 5 years old attending pre-school increased from 78 percent in 2012 to 81 percent in 2013. Some critics say, however, that the study was conducted only to make Rousseff look good.

Her presidency has also faced other criticism. After Brazil was host to the 2014 World Cup, Rousseff faced strong criticism over the expenditure of public money. Citizens questioning “the morality of pumping so much money into stadiums instead of programs to fight poverty and build infrastructure,” fueled the antigovernment street protests in early 2013. Rousseff defended the spending, saying the funds were allocated to infrastructure projects and not just the soccer event. Other criticisms include allegations of corruption from the government’s purchase of a Texas oil refinery and the management of the nation’s economy by Finance Minister Guido Mantega.

Despite these criticisms, Rousseff’s runoff victory provides Brazilians with hope. Operating under the slogan “New Government, New Ideas,” she promises a better Brazil. After her win, Rousseff’s victory speech urged Brazilians to unite.  “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now,” she told her supporters. Rousseff’s victory is historic as she is not only leading the eighth-largest economy in the world, but she is also the president of the wealthiest country in Latin America.

Photograph by Roberto Stuckert Filho, courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

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Russia Restricts Independent Media

By Candice Norwood

The Washington Post reported Oct. 17, that Russian President Vladimir Putin, passed a law that will prevent foreigners from owning more than 20 percent of Russian media assets. Russian lawmakers say this decision is a response to what they perceive to be anti-Russian bias in Western media.

“We understand very well that those who own information own the world,” said Vadim Dengin, the author of the bill, according to the Post. “When foreigners come here to make money and then actively influence the media market and use it for their own benefit, at this moment, I want to say that I am ready to close down Russia and ensure its security.”

The law will mostly affect independent Russian media companies, many of which have Western-based financiers. Russia’s leading independent broadcast company CTC Media, was established by American entrepreneur Peter Gerwe. Similarly, Vedomosti, Russia’s leading independent newspaper, is a joint venture between the Financial Times Group, Dow Jones and Sanoma, the Finnish publisher of The Moscow Times.

Russia passes law aimed at foreign media ownership

Russia passes law aimed at foreign media ownership

This legislation is the latest in a series of Kremlin attempts to increase its control over Russian media. In May of this year, Putin also enacted the “Bloggers Law,” which requires all websites with more than 3,000 daily followers to register with the government and become subject to review or censorship.

In addition to registering with the government, the Bloggers Law also prevents popular bloggers from remaining anonymous and requires organizations that assist with blog distribution to maintain computer records on Russian soil, The New York Times reports.

The Russian government has a history of exerting extensive control over its media institutions, much to the dismay of independent services. It is no secret that the Soviet Union era was plagued by extreme censorship and restriction on free speech. Epp Lauk, a journalism professor at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, discussed the structure of Soviet media in her 1999 article “Practice of Soviet Censorship in the Press.”

“When investigating Soviet censorship system, we find a complicated network of special instructions and institutions that limited access to information on the one hand, and restricted access to the distribution channels on the other,” Lauk said in the article.

During this time ordinary citizens were not permitted to publish anything. The Russian government only extended that freedom to specific pre-approved groups. This led to the rise of “samizdat,” a Russian word for self-publishing, according to the BBC.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russians enjoyed almost 10 years of free speech before Putin’s first presidential term began in 2000. Putin’s next move to further limit dissenting viewpoints in Russian media is still unknown. But as more independent outlets become strapped for finances and resources, state-funded institutions become more powerful. With this power they are further able to contradict Western perspectives and bolster Russia’s image.

Image: WikiCommons/Russian newspapers

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British Vote Should Concern Israel

By Daniel Farber Ball

The British Parliament voted late at night on Oct. 13 to support a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The decision became official, when 274 members of Parliament stated “this House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.” Only 12 MPs objected out of the 650 seats, and the remaining 364 MPs, who mostly form the ruling party, didn’t participate.

While this is a non-binding resolution that can’t force the British government to change its Middle East policy, officials in Jerusalem should be concerned. The ruling Conservative Party decided did not show up to object the vote, meanwhile the opposing Labour party fully supported it.

While the vote didn’t go unnoticed in Israel, only one major newspaper mentioned it on its cover, as seen on Velvetunderground.co.il . Maybe it was due to editorial decisions, or maybe due to the late hour of the vote, either way there was plenty of reaction online on the newspapers’ websites.

The British Parliament takes a non-binding vote to support a Palestinian state

The British Parliament takes a non-binding vote to support a Palestinian state

A paper supporting Netanyahu, “Yisral Hayom,” placed the story in a small box on page 5 of Tuesday’s paper. They stayed with the story the following day but framed it as an unjust global trend, and as columnist Dan Margalit wrote, that Israel should “Keep calm and carry on.” Another columnist Haim Shine called the resolution “hypocrisy” in his daily column that day.

The paper that did mention the vote on its front page was “Yediot Achoront.” This paper is considered closer to the political center in Israel, but according to some it holds an anti-Netanyahu bias and has a tendency to create spectacles. On its website, “Ynet,” the theme of concern was kept and maybe even amplified, with fingers pointed at the Israeli Prime Minister. This line was kept in the other “political center” newspaper, “Ma’ariv Hashavoa’a,” which separately presented comments from British officials and Israeli opposition.

On the left side of the media map, the liberal “Ha’aretz” took the British vote as an opportunity to push its left wing views. Without neglecting the fact the vote was only symbolic, reporter Anshel Pfeffer, drew lines between the vote to the historic 1917 “Belfour Declaration.” The non-binding declaration was in fact a letter, sent from the United Kingdom foreign Secretary James Balfur to Baron Rothschild addressing the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland.

In the letter, Balfur says the British Government “views in favor” the establishment of a national home for the Jews in the land of Palestine. Pfeffer speculates if the Parliament vote might turn out to be the Palestinian “Balfur Declaration.” Meanwhile, columnist Ravit Hecht said the Israeli right wing is in a state of denial following the vote and similar international statements censuring Israel, and called the Israeli Prime Minister a liar. “Ha’aretz” also presented criticism against Netanyahu from all sides of Israeli politics.

And while the Israeli media joins in the Israeli political blame game, the Palestinians continue to look for more recognition. Jerusalem should devise a diplomatic plan sooner then later, or it might just find itself on the wrong side of global politics and diplomacy.

Photograph of British Parliament buildings taken by Aaron Gustafson courtesy of Flickr.

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Pakistan Media Muddle

By Gujari Singh

In two recent drone attacks in Pakistan’s northern region on Sept. 24 and 28, the international media explained the incident in different ways. The question this raises is: What is the role of the press in reporting these stories? Are they reporting objective news or are they spinning it?

In the first incident on Sept 24, a drone fired on a group in Northern Waziristan killing eight to 10 Pakistanis. These seem to be the facts that all the news sources agree on. The part that differs is their choice of words as to who these Pakistanis were, the actual death count and who owned the drone. According to indiatvnews.com, the dead were 10 Pakistani militants, while according to the Voice of America (VOA), the head count was eight and the deceased were six local Pakistanis and two foreigners. The deceased were only suspected militants and not militants, VOA reported, also commenting that the deaths could not be verified since journalists are not allowed in the area.

According to CNN and VOA this was a “suspected” U.S. drone strike, while other news outlets such as Press TV, Times of India and Radio Free Europe stated that this was an actual U.S. drone strike that caused these deaths.

A General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone, which is an unmanned aerial vehicle.

A General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drone, which is an unmanned aerial vehicle.

On Sept. 28, the facts are similar to the incident on Sept. 24, with the news reports explaining that a drone killed North Waziristan residents. Again, the exact number of deaths and who these people were remain in question. In this incident, the consensus is that the strike was done by a U.S. drone, however, the question of how many and who these people were varies. The Guardian story, which came from the Associated Press, said the parties who were killed were two Arabs and two local allies, all suspected militants. The New York Times reported that an “American drone strike” killed at least four suspected militants.

The advances in international communication and technology (ICT) allow for speed and accuracy of information to pass from one location to another within mere seconds. When many newspapers receive their information from a wire service that is sent to all the different news outlets and agencies, why is the number of deaths in question? Even with the newspapers that have reporters on the ground, like The New York Times, the casualties differ in number.

In these two specific incidents, the question becomes are newspapers getting different information even when they rely on their own reporters?  Why did some newspaper reports choose to state that the deceased were militants and others call them “suspected” militants. Also, why do the death toll numbers differ?

In both these incidents, different news outlets reported different facts. How can so many different news sources have different information and not have their readers believe it is opinion.

Photograph of U.S. drone courtesy of Wikipedia: Wikimedia Commons

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