The Three Alternative Journalisms of Africa
Terje S Skjerdal
Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication, Norway and Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
Much African journalism scholarship has had a critical stand towards ‘Western’ journalism models. The criticism has resulted in the submission of alternative African journalism models such as ujamaa journalism, ubuntu journalism and oral discourse journalism. The present article reviews a number of significant contributions to normative African journalism models over the past 50 years and argues that they constitute three major streams: journalism for social change, communal journalism and journalism based on oral discourse. The vital differences between these three journalism models are explicated along the dimensions of interventionism and cultural essentialism. The article goes on to enquire why the three journalism models of Africa, different as they are, appear to be in collective conflict with Western journalism paradigms. It is suggested that the dimensions of socio-historicity and professionalism best explain the conflict.
‘The tragedy facing African journalism’, writes the late Francis Kasoma (1996: 95), ‘is that the continent’s journalists have closely imitated the professional norms of the North’. Kasoma is only one of many scholars who have expressed discontent with Western influence in African journalism. A series of commentators warn against mainstream ‘bandwagonism’ (Nyamnjoh, 2005b: 4) in African journalism at the expense of ‘genuine’ African values. Western media practices applied in the African context arguably reinforce neocolonialism (Banda, 2008a), undermine (Ndlela, 2009) and misinterpret local culture (Sesanti, 2009), suppress people participation (Shaw, 2009), prioritize conflict above empathy (Traber, 1987) and are generally seen to be at odds with African philosophy (Blake, 2009; Jimada, 1992; Okigbo, 1987).
A closer look at the history of African media studies, however, shows that there is no consensus on a distinct African journalism paradigm that stands out as an agreed alternative to a Western or Northern paradigm (Kivikuru, 2009). Kasoma (1996), for example, who proposed ‘Afriethics’ as a basis for African journalism practice, was criticized by colleagues from all over the continent who claimed that his ideology was based on a ‘romantic reconstruction of the pre-colonial’ (Nyamnjoh, 2005a: 91) and that it assumed a static and exceptionalistic understanding of African culture (Banda, 2009b; Tomaselli, 2009). Others have suggested ubuntuism as a source for African journalism ideology (e.g. Blankenberg, 1999; Christians, 2004; Worthington, 2011), but they have been refused as well, for instance on the ground that ubuntu runs the risk of being misused for political purposes (Fourie, 2008a, 2008b) or that it could turn into an essentialist and exclusivist ideology (Kanyegirire, 2007). Even so, the belief that Africa needs a journalism standard which differs substantially from that of the rest of the world – and particularly from the West – seems to be strong among many media scholars….[See More]