Covering Global War on Terrorism Through African and American Lenses
(A Presentation Made by Massa Amelia Washington at the University of Pennsylvania)

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

April 24, 2003

Editor's Note: On Friday April 18, 2003, the African Studies Department of the University of Pennsylvania, held a one day Workshop entitled: "Covering Global War On Terrorism Through African And American Lenses" at its campus in Philadelphia. Ms. Massa Amelia Washington, a Liberian journalist, served as a panelist at the workshop. Find below remarks by Ms. Washington at the workshop:

Good afternoon everyone! I would like to thank the organizers of this event for the opportunity to share light on a subject that is fast becoming very important to all of us one way or the other.

Before I go into the reporting aspect of this war on terrorism from African and American media perspectives, I have a few questions that I'd like to throw out.

Terrorism, what is it? How do we perceive it? Are we in one accord as per its definition? When is terrorism terrorism? when do we raise the alarm? Who qualifies as a terrorist, whether individual, groups, or nations? What criteria are we using to establish this list?

State or non-State terrorism? Local terrorism Vs terrorism brought from outside? Are we brought in to help someone fight their terrorists while ours are being ignored? How does terrorism affect us in its entirety?

I ask these questions, because the answers, which may vary depending on whose responding, can directly or indirectly affect people's perception of the subject, and the media may be no exception here. A theory of journalism states that "the media is a reflection of the society."

I've been following the current situation very keenly, and there are some interesting observations.

1. We have at least several different angles and levels of coverage of the war in Iraq, the Arabic media version, the African media version, the American media version, and the British media version. Then there is also the Coalition of the willing media version, and the Anti-war coalition media version. However, there is one common factor found here. And that is, in respective of how they report the war, all of these media are reporting from the standpoint of "self interest".

As events of the conflict unfold, it is becoming increasingly clear that the different media, are reporting based on their interests, meaning their respective countries, government policies on the war, and local perceptions are taking center stage as to what form editorial content take. Initial positions of countries at the UN regarding the ongoing conflict, also seemed to have set the tune for the way, by and large on how this war on terrorism is reported.

In accordance with the Topic, I will limit my comments to the US Vs African Media coverage of the war. Meanly mainstream US media including electronic and print for example continue to reflect the United States policies on the war, sometimes presenting more of a PR nature. Stories with happy endings, friendly enemies, support for the war at home and abroad, and images depicting victories for ally forces are lifted, and amplified, while reverse situations are largely downplayed or allowed to die naturally. (give example of photos). Editorials and news broadcasts continue to lean more toward this trend of reporting. However, some individual columnists have maintained opposite views of what is happening as expressed in their columns.

On the other hand, African media coverage has also reflected the continent's stance on the subject. Africa's representatives at the UN Security Council (Guinea, Cameroon, and Angola), seem to have conveyed the Continent's position at all levels as per the subject matter. African media have continued to treat the situation with a subtle non-support for the war, sometimes taking a middle position, while remaining quiet at other times.

Unlike the American media, the war has not engulfed the African press, in that African media has not given the matter the kind of attention and publicity that the subject has received in western press owning to several factors.

1. Many if not all countries in Africa have lived with terrorism for years. Terrorism, that carried many different names depending on the interest of important players. Whether domestic or imported, terrorism in Africa has gone virtually unnoticed and unchecked ranging from the terror filled days of Jonah Samvimbi of Angola, to Idi Ami of Uganda, Laurent Kabila of DRC, Charles Taylor of Liberia, and Blaise Camporare of Burkina Faso just to name a few.

2. Africa has her hands full with what might be termed more pressing issues at the home front, i.e., political instability, rebel wars, the threat of HIV Aids, other health issues, poverty etc. These domestic issues continue to take precedent over African media coverage of the current war. For example, African media headlines are focusing presently on the beginning of hearings of the recently created Truth Commission in Sierra Leone, following that country's brutal civil war where an estimated 50,000 people died, Nigeria and Guinea Bissau are making headlines with their parliamentary elections, the ongoing famine in Zimbabwe, the Ebola fever outbreak in the DRC, the rebel situation in the Ivory Coast, are all elements influencing the level and kind of coverage that the war against terrorism effort receives from the African press.

3. Nevertheless, one aspect of the conflict that is being focused on and reported by the African media, is the effect the war will have on the continent. It is the fear of the region's leaders and is been given permanence by the media, that the current situation will hurt Africa especially economically and developmentally. It is feared that the situation will divert the world's attention from Africa's problems, that economic assistance intended for Africa will now be diverted to the reconstruction package for Iraq. This position was emphasized by African representatives at the recent IMF meeting, held in Washington They pointed out that similar situation occurred during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and with the Afghanistan crisis.

4. Investors wishing to invest in Africa, it is presumed, are having second thoughts about investing in a potentially volatile region. It is also a new type of fear that this war might extend across geographical boundaries.

All of the examples given have served as catalysis for the way the war is reported by both the African and American media with self-interest being the predominant factor.