By positivepressagency, October 22, 2016.
Western Media’s Biased Coverage of Kenya
Before moving back to Kenya in 2011, I wrestled with irrational fears about the safety and cleanliness of the country, in addition to questions regarding the economic environment, more specifically on whether I would be able to find a good job that would help justify my reason for leaving what my distant relatives call, “the land of the milk and honey,” aka the United States.
Although I had visited Kenya numerous times since we moved abroad in 1994, it had always been for a few weeks and during holiday season. I had never truly experienced what it meant to be Kenyan. What I knew about the country came from the media headlines and commercials featuring starving children unable to muster the strength to swat away the flies hovering over their faces.
Kenya was a place of great political turmoil, per CNN as described in their coverage of the 2007 elections, which were marred by post-election violence. Kenya was a land filled with disease and drought, according to mainstream media that chose to focus their resources on producing highlights of only the worst aspects of Kenyan society.
Absent from their coverage was the technology revolution taking place in the form of M-Pesa or mobile money. Missing from their reports was the fact that Kenya featured some of the world’s most beautiful natural resources and animals. Some of the world’s most beautiful flowers can be found in Kenya. Some of the world’s best tasting tea and coffee can also be found in Kenya. And I haven’t even mentioned the people.
The incredible athletes that dominate marathons all over the world. Or the passionate and ingenious youth who have proven over and over again why many technology experts call Kenya, “Silicon Savannah,” Africa’s own Silicon Valley. This is what I found when I went to Kenya as a working member of its burgeoning society. Sure, there were pockets of violence or disease or drought here and there, but the majority of my experiences were positive, and nearly all of them left me inspired to blog and post about them to friends.
That’s how www.positivepressagency.com was born. It started as a simple idea but has transformed into a calling. I wrote posts each week meant to not only entertain my friends and family back in Canada and America, but also to educate them about what mainstream media wasn’t telling them about Africa, and Kenya specifically.
The Reasoning Behind Negative News
News companies choose to cover negative stories rather than positive ones for various reasons, but mainly so that they won’t lose their audience. Imagine the competition news faces today in 2016. The proliferation of the internet and the rapid development of technology (Moore’s, Butter’s, Cooper’s law) has forced news companies to go to great lengths in order to compete for waning consumer attention.
Today, news programs have to compete with entertainment channels and social media platforms to engage their audiences with emotionally grabbing content. Coverage of crime, war and famine leave viewers, readers and listeners anxious, fearful and angry, often leading to them tuning in longer and more often. But at what cost?
Adverse Health Implications Caused by Negative News
Studies have shown that this type of misleading, unbalanced, and ratings-driven coverage adversely affects the mood and psychological health of audiences. Such coverage has been shown to exacerbate an individual’s personal worries and anxieties, while influencing them to view their communities and the greater world with fear, anger, and suspicion. It’s important that TV producers consider such effects when preparing and scheduling programmes containing emotively negative content.
In his book The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions, Swiss author and businessman Rolf Dobelli writes: “News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.”
Furthermore, in a Huffington Post article titled What Constant Exposure to Negative News is Doing to our Mental Health, journalist Carolyn Gregoire breaks down who negative news effects and how it does so.
“On a neurological level, when we’re confronted with images of violence, we know that images or videos depicting violence are categorically different from actual violence — so we don’t process the input as threatening stimuli. However, we internalize the negative stimuli, which can affect mood and cause one to feel more negatively towards the environment more broadly.
PTSD Symptoms: Some research has even suggested that viewing traumatic images in the media can cause PTSD-like symptoms. A 2001 study found that watching the events of 9/11 on television was enough to trigger PTSD symptoms — such as worrying about future terrorist attacks and reduced self-confidence — in some viewers. Severity of symptoms, interestingly, was directly correlated with the amount of time the subjects spent watching television.
Impact on Journalists: A recent study also found that being frequently exposed to graphic, uncensored images of violence is emotionally distressing to many journalists working in newsroom settings. The journalists who were regularly exposed to violent video footage scored higher on indexes of PTSD — including re-experiencing, avoidance and general anxiety — as well as increased alcohol consumption, depression, and somatization (physical signs of distress in the body).
Too Numb or Sensitive to Negativity: The researchers noted that over time, exposure to graphic violence can cause a process of either sensitization, in which the individuals becomes more sensitive to emotional distress upon viewing the images, or desensitization — a sort of numbing process in which individuals become habituated to what they see — to occur. This numbing effect, which causes the brain to exhibit less of an emotional response to disturbing stimuli, has been observed in those who have been repeatedly exposed to violent video games.
Negativity is the silver lining to our happiness: There’s another interpretation that Trussler and Soroka put on their evidence: we pay attention to bad news, because on the whole, we think the world is rosier than it actually is. When it comes to our own lives, most of us believe we’re better than average, and that, like the clichés, we expect things to be all right in the end. This pleasant view of the world makes bad news all the more surprising and salient. It is only against a light background that the dark spots are highlighted.
Positive News is the Solution: What’s clear from this research is that more positive news is needed to outweigh the violence and destruction we’re exposed to every day. As psychologist Steven Pinker and international studies professor Andrew Mack write in Slate, the world is not going to hell in a handbasket, despite what the headlines suggest. Violence has actually decreased, and quality of life has improved for millions of people. Journalism should reflect these truths.”
Positive Press Africa: Using Media to Change the Global Perception of Africa
The negative connotation that the word ‘Africa’ elicits from those who’ve never walked foot on the continent, but only learn about it from the news, media and word of mouth inspired the creation of Positive Press Africa.
What’s the first thought that pops into your mind when you’re asked to think about Africa?
Starving children? Aids epidemic? Ebola? Warfare? Drought? Corruption?
This simple question and answer scenario has left a lasting impression on me.
Early in 2012, I began to recognize and understand the tremendous influence news and media played in directing the narrative that was told about the motherland.
Instead of opportunities and innovation, the news promised a disaster zone, ripe with abject violence and disease, void of any hope or promise.
I realized how deep that narrative had been imbibed onto onlookers around the world; including within the country and her citizens.
If the news and media were (partly) to blame for the inaccurate narrative concerning Africa, we quickly recognized that the negative perception could only change using a hybrid of both…New Media.
That’s how Positive Press Africa came to be.
Our generation has been blessed with an infinite amount of resources to learn about the world around us, yet ignorance remains at an all-time high and is accelerating at an alarming rate.
It’s our responsibility to educate African’s and non-African’s alike on the beauty, prosperity and opportunity that exists right here on the continent.
PPA is dedicated to helping rebrand Africa by curating and sharing the positive developments taking place here on the continent and across the world.