“You’re not going to see it on CNN”
FERIAL HAFFERJEE, EDITOR, MAIL AND GUARDIAN, S. AFRICA: 2005 has been Africa’s year. It’s made global headlines, perhaps more so than the continent has in any decade before. In the grand world of spin, the months leading up to the G8 Summit were filled with many newspaper headlines, many lead items on bulletins, saying that Africa’s poorest countries had been granted unprecedented debt relief, and that the world was going to take up its levels of aid to the poorest countries in the world by astronomical amounts. Of course, when you get down to things that actually hasn’t happened. We’re a pretty gullible lot, us people in the media. We love big headlines. We are as gullible about spin in South Africa as the world networks are. We like the grand announcement, and we’re not terribly good at the follow-up. I think the South African story that’s told oversees a lot is the “miracle country” and “the good guy in Africa” stories. And yes, those are justified in large measure, but we also have our flip sides. We have stories of deepening poverty—many more people are poorer than they were before. And that’s not to say things were better under apartheid, just that globalization came at the same time as freedom. Our newspaper spends a lot of resources and time in investigating corruption, which we see as something that will neutralize all the benefits of democracy. The Mail & Guardian has been running a series of stories called Oilgate. (The “gate” signifies that this is our scandal.) It’s about a company called Imvume, which was started by the ruling party and which very quickly won lucrative oil deals, including some with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Those are now being probed by the United Nations, but we’re probing it locally, because some of the value of those contracts found they were into the ANC’s coffers ahead of an election when it was extremely cash-starved. As we’ve begun investigating the links between politics and business, the coming of crony capitalism, we’ve looked to many countries to help us understand why this is wrong. And of course the big place we looked at was Iraq and the granting of contracts to American companies like Halliburton, etcetera, very close to the ruling party, to the Republicans there. So that guided our work a great deal to help us find what was right, what was wrong. We also looked at Brazil, where President Lula is facing almost the same set of circumstances. Again, after Hurricane Katrina, you saw the same things happening: the salvation contracts, etcetera, all going to companies very pally-pally with those in power. So yes, around the world the same thing’s happened. If we have access to this sort of information, it makes it much easier to tell those stories. That has been our difficulty in finding the information of crony capitalism around the world is you’re not going to see it on CNN and probably not on the BBC either. So you’ve got to find alternative sources of information. The world can benefit from hearing African stories told by people based in Africa, because if you take AIDS—let’s talk about the coverage thereof for a moment—I think in order to get people’s hands into their pockets, it’s often a story of hopelessness and of a continent in need of saviors. Actually, the stories they should be hearing is the stories of Senegal, where you’ve seen a very efficient system begin to show the way to curb the spread of AIDS, firstly, and to provide effective treatment. That’s beginning to happen in other countries as well—Botswana another great example. In South Africa, I think the world could help to understand why it is we’re not paving the way, why are we not leading the continent in fighting AIDS. The key point for me is that Africa is a continent—it’s not a country. Its story is often told as if it’s a country. It’s got levels, and it’s got nuance, and it’s got complexity that the world would be well served knowing better. I’ve read quite a bit about Independent World Television. I’ve met with the people who are going to be running it. I think that it’s an exciting idea. It’s going to cost lots of money, it’s going to take a lot of commitment, but I think the world, large chunks of the world, are very ready for a network of news that’s not CNN, that’s not the BBC, and that’s not only Sky. Independent World Television is an idea whose time has come. If it’s going to be run by professional journalists and turn out a quality product-featuring alternative, independent voices, it’s going to be a huge success.
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