African journalists have been prevented from telling their stories by repressive regimes

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, an African American Emmy Award winning journalist, is calling for better news out of Africa. Because coverage of Africa tends to be riddled with racist stereotypes and misguided generalizations of the people, customs, and contexts on the continent, she said it is no wonder that the average reader thinks Africa is one country that is disease ridden, poverty stricken, and hopeless.
Hunter-Gault debunked those notions last Friday at the Center for American Progress when she charged news media to “come in right,” and “check your pre-conceived notions and biases at the door.”
The continent, comprised of 54 nations with heterogeneous topographies, languages, histories, and economic strengths and weaknesses, should be reported in all its complexities.
African journalists have been prevented from telling their stories by repressive regimes; and foreign correspondents reporting on the continent often miss the mark, she said.
With more than 40 years of experience in the industry, Hunter-Gault has painted a poignantly complex picture of Africa in her latest book, “New News Out of Africa”—part memoir and part journalistic analysis. She divides “New News” into three parts, first focusing on South Africa—a country she lived in as CNN Johannesburg bureau chief—then on the continent-wide efforts to make the most changes since the end of colonialism, and lastly on the challenges that journalists must confront to report from the continent.
About the last segment of “New News,” Hunter Gault said that “Journalists on the continent are determined to take control of their stories” where the concept of free press is relatively new. Traditionally, news media in Africa after the period of decolonization were state-owned and state-controlled.
Nowadays, African journalists are trying desperately to counter the misconstrued imbalance in coverage of the continent. Small independent newspapers are cropping up with African journalists at the helm though they face insurmountable challenges at the hands of repressive regimes such as Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopia and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, claimed Hunter-Gault. There have been reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about African journalists being jailed, tortured, and killed because they express views that expose the political machinery for its corruption and lack of leadership.
Having seen the increased threat to freedom of press that goes hand in hand with authoritarian rule, Hunter-Gault encouraged non-African correspondents to work at getting the story right, at all cost. “We have to work with African journalists” to carve out a space such that freedom of press is not paid lip service, she said.
Buoyed by the increased progress South Africa has made 12 years after the end of institutional discrimination and segregation—apartheid—Hunter-Gault turned to the country’s political landscape as a means of painting a picture of hope. “ South Africa is the engine of change in Africa,” said Hunter-Gault, alluding to the country’s involvement in brokering peace in the volatile Great Lakes Region—central Africa—and elsewhere on the continent.
“Here is one of the greatest experiments of all time” and no one is paying attention to the democratic process taking shape and fomenting in South Africa, said the former NPR correspondent. “If South Africa can redress the glaring inequalities that apartheid engendered, it will be one of the most radical and inspirational success stories of our time.”
Affirmative Action is not a dirty word in South Africa, said Hunter-Gault, who noted that it has become a government-sanctioned policy of Black integration into the heavily White formal sectors of government, the economy, and the education system. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how a Black-led government would institute Affirmative Action, but nobody’s there watching” and that’s a travesty, she asserted.
“South Africa is trying to refashion its role on the continent, as well as refashion Africa,” and reporters should be present documenting the grueling process, said Hunter-Gault.
No doubt, South Africa holds a special place in Hunter-Gault’s memory because of her own involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement. She is the author of “In My Place,” a memoir constructed around her experiences as the first Black woman to attend the University of Georgia.

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