Africa is the focus of this issue’s international journalism section. It is a continent too often ignored by Western media and a place where in too many countries those who are journalists confront challenges in their work that their U.S. peers could not even imagine. In several African nations, intimidation and legal confrontations with government officials are common forms of journalistic censure; for some reporters, torture and imprisonment are a consequence of their job.
From South Africa, Mathatha Tsedu (’97 NF), deputy editor of The Star in Johannesburg, explores the transitory terrain that black journalists now inhabit as they are called upon to report on the nation’s black government. At a time when the government-appointed Human Rights Commission has been holding contentious hearings about racism in the media, Tsedu argues that the uppermost challenge for black journalists rests within each of them. “The challenge is to decide on what is right and wrong and sometimes national priorities might interfere with what ordinarily would be good journalism,” Tsedu writes. Dennis Cruywagen (’00 NF), former deputy editor of Pretoria News, reviews Benjamin Pogrund’s book, “War of Words: Memoir of a South African Journalist,” and reminds us of the journalistic courage displayed by some white reporters during South Africa’s apartheid era.
From Zimbabwe come two stories describing a nation where the independent press is struggling mightily to survive. Freelance journalist and novelist David Karanja provides an insightful overview of problems that members of the Zimbabwe media confront. And Mark G. Chavunduka (’00 NF), editor of The Standard, illustrates the personal price paid by enterprising reporters with his recounting of the torture and imprisonment he endured because of a story his newspaper published. But he also describes his triumph in court when a section of a law used to intimidate the media was ruled unconstitutional.
Wilson Wanene, a Kenyan-born freelance journalist, reviews journalist Robert M. Press’s book, “The New Africa: Dispatches from a Changing Continent,” and concludes that its message—often overlooked by journalists—is “Take time to really understand Africa.” This message resonates with the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. In its annual listing of the top 10 underreported humanitarian stories, critical situations on the African continent comprise a majority. In an article that accompanies this list, Susan Moeller, author of “Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death,” examines the process by which members of the press decide where and when to shine their searchlights in distant places. Moeller also tracks evolving media interest in the AIDS crisis in Africa. “…[A]t least, now, they are covering the story,” she writes. “It remains to be seen whether they will stay with it.”