Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Triumph of Amebo

When I was but a young pup there was a sitcom called the village headmaster in which the gossips name was Amebo. So in colloquial Nigeriana Amebo became shorthand for an irresponsible gossip who finds life purpose in sowing division, discord and drama. The press across the world has taken the role of Amebo to absurdity. There was a time when journalism was a noble profession in which there was a clear distinction between facts and editorial. We now have journalists who make the news up as they go . There is very little attempt at objectivity nor a serious effort at debate but the sheer tabliodisation and addiction to the sensational means that there is very little left in the bank for a serious pursuit of issues for the reader, listener or watcher to make up their own minds. It also further shame that the quality of opinions is largely poor and simplistic full of easily consumable soundbites that are trite and rarely illuminate anything other than the egos of those who produce them.

Take the role the press plays in exploiting divisions and differences. my first genuine experience of this was as a young person of how they tried to vilify and generate hatred for my hero Mohammed Ali . He was for them the arrogant and narcissistic black man who sought to live above his station. In their view a dangerous renegade whose faith was dangerous and subversive. He was the whipping boy for this earlier form of Islamophobia. It is quite interesting that the same press now thrives on presenting him as an icon when he has been forced by disability and age to mellow his positions. The same press derided the earlier hip hop movement for Afrocentricism calling it romantic claptrap trumpeting an African past that never was and a dangerous ideology that did not have credibility in the gritty streets from whence they emerged. They laughed at the Brand Nubians, The Native tongue collective, KRS one , Jungle bothers till they helped drum ascendancy to the very Gangsta rap they now criticize.

The more disturbing turning point is the symbiosis with Princess Diana that followed her in life and its arguable that it haunts her in death. i remember distinctly being caught in London the day before her funeral and realizing the way in which press machinations had driven the people into a mob like frenzy in which the streets of London looked like a set of the war of the worlds. The hysteria generated was contagious like a sweeping tide of Ebola or some other kind of virus . People literarily attacked you if you questioned the sainthood that the very press who exploited Diana's neurosis had now conveyed on her. What became clear was that Newspapers, Television and Radio were committed to finding any emotive issue that drove the desire to engage life as a soap opera in which you continued to buy their product to follow the plot, sequel et al.

This journey of a tabliodisation of the media also includes the heavy rotation of 24 hour news channels that constantly seek an angle on the news and feeding the never ending desire for breaking news. This is always couched in the language and the world of simplistic and linear narrative that reduces life's most complex issues into readily consumable dichotomies. Take an example in the so called Obama momentum and the notion that it is a fact that there is division amongst the voters along the of identity lines especially blacks for Obama and Hispanics for Clinton. This simple narrative presumes that blacks are voting their colour rather than they had take their time to truly assess Obama's bona fides and like other voters including white males, working class women, latinos are liking what they see and also expressing their enthusiasm for the possibility that their hopes for dramatic change might be truly embodied in this campaign. It is true to say that 80-90% voting itself is a sign of absolute solidarity but that against an initial analysis that Obama was either not black enough or as a child of immigrant African rather than descended from Slaves he lacked credibility. It is now the same campaign that everyone now tags with the potential of inevitability. For the press the most disturbing result is that even when it is wrong it is right. CNN, Time magazine, Newsweek and NYT amongst many corporate media outlets have nailed their position to Hillary either explicitly or by their editorial positions. This however is often under the smoke of objectivity. In the same token the press refuses to acknowledge that Obama has won predominantly whites states like Idaho and Iowa outright. They neglect to acknowledge the fact that Latino is a multicultural, multinational, and multi- skin- pigmentation , linguistic banner and it only the media and lazy administrators that can create such classification then sow seeds of demographic blood bath on minority status. I often wonder what a black Chilean has in common with a Mexican other than language.

The major problem is that it is the same approach that has now been copied by the media in many parts of the world to great damage. In South Africa the role of the media in reducing Thabo Mbeki into the stereotype of the nutty intellectual who is a stranger to his people has stuck so well. They reduced a complex and nuanced man into a cartoon cut out that the public bought with potentially damaging consequences. They took their leave from their Western colleagues to present his position on Zimbabwe as timidity. In Nigeria the press has made Anti Obasanjo stance a governance standard to the detriment of clear headed and eclectic judgement with very damaging consequence in policy terms for reforms. We now have government whose desire for popularity is shown in how many of its predecessors positions it overturns. We have seen both the Clintons and Blair amongst other cosy up to the Murdoch press like crack addicts to a dealers Hummer. With the exception of Al Jazeera and maybe the Financial Times (on non African issues) you are highly unlikely to read or watch anything other couched in pre-packaged world views. It is now the case that governments aross the world spend a lot of their time and resources in news management rather than informing people. Once again the western approach to journalism has been accepted as the gold standard for a free press. How truly sustainable is this?

It is time to truly start encouraging original gathering of information and a concerted effort to manage the the role of the media in our information rich world. The first place is the role of Afro pessimists in shaping the dialogue around Africa. It is also the time we set up a fact check forum around the African media so that the politics of personal destruction is not used as a substitute for real exploration and dialogue of the issues. Finally it is quite right to start calling out all those hacks who collect brown envelopes or are in the pocket of corporate and vested interests to the detriment of the reading and viewing elite.

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