“The most dynamic and innovative face of Africa suffers from constant under-representation in the Italian media”. So says a brief summary of the 2023 report “L’Africa MEDIAta”, presented in Rome on 25 May by the Italian section of the NGO Amref. The dossier published by the Pavia-based research centre “Pavia Observatory” and now in its fourth edition, the dossier aims to analyse, both quantitatively and qualitatively, how the Dark Continent is covered on television, in newspapers and on social media.” One feature of continuity runs through all the editions of the report: the rare coverage of Africa and African and Afro-descendant people in the mainstream media,” Amref points out. The report’s editors, Paola Crestani (President of Amref Health Africa in Italy) and Guglielmo Micucci (Director General) add that “narratives about Africa are often peppered with clichés and false myths that risk conditioning our view of this vast continent: a land as rich in diversity as it is in resources, and which seems determined to conquer its future by all means, including digital innovation”.
The dossier, full of data and information graphics, consists of six chapters and is divided into two parts: “The first is dedicated to the general information about Africa, Africans and Afro-descendants in the traditional media, the press and television; the second focuses instead on the media representation of African innovation and development, searching for the concepts of novelty, future, dynamism and change, emancipation and talent, creativity and competence in the image of Africa that the Italian media present to their audiences,” the NGO summarises. “In terms of numbers, Africa seems to have a decidedly innovative and avant-garde face: Actually ‘smart’. But is this what the Italian media are telling us? And if so, in what way? With what accents, what nuances?” Crestani and Micucci wonder.
* On the cover photo, a university laboratory © Watch The World/Shutterstock.com
Africa in the newspapers
Our starting point is the analysis of the coverage from 1 January to 31 December 2022. In 2022, Africa appeared in 953 news items on the front pages of six newspapers, an average of 13 times a month (3 less than in 2021), with 83.8% of the news items identifying Africa with Africans in Italy or other Western countries and related to the phenomenon of migration (69.1%), society and culture (15.6%) and news events (9.4%). The remaining 16.2% of the articles deal with Africa as a continent, reporting on war and terrorism (36.4%), migration (14.9%) and politics (14.3%). The tone of the communication is also important, of course: it is neutral (87.9%), alarming (8.6%) or reassuring (3.5%). The report puts the right-wing magazine Il Giornale in first place for alarming news. For reassuring news it is Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI).
Infotainment and prime time
Amref highlights a trend observed from 2020 onwards: the gradual reduction of news about Africa. In the news programmes analysed for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2022, only 1,174 relevant news items were identified (22% less than in 2021), 74% of which related to migration flows and reception management. Indeed, the migration emergency is one of the most discussed topics, especially in relation to specific events such as shipwrecks and rescues. In 2022, news about war and terrorism decreased in favour of news about institutional trips by Italian ministers to Africa, gas supplies, COP27 and reports.
The marginalisation of Africa is also confirmed by the 85 infotainment programmes analysed on seven television channels: 700 references to Africa were detected out of 61,320 hours broadcast in one year, a decrease compared to the previous year, an average of one reference every 87 hours of programming. The channels that devote the most attention to the African continent are the public Rai3 (51%) and Rai1 (15%) and the private La7 (14%). Africa is generally presented as a single reality, lacking specificity and uniformly characterised by a hopeless future. Moreover, following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the presence of a migration narrative in the programmes distinguishes between genuine refugees fleeing an invasion, i.e. Ukrainians, and ‘refugees of convenience’, as those from the African continent seem to be considered.
Who does what
Amref and the Pavia Observatory
Amref Health Africa (African Medical and Research Foundation) is a non-governmental organisation founded in 1957 with the aim of improving health in Africa through the active participation of local communities. It employs mainly African staff (around 97%) and much of its funding is used to train local medical staff. It has become famous for its Flying Doctors, airlifted medical personnel who bring care to the most remote and inaccessible areas of Africa.
The Pavia Observatory is an independent research institute specialising in media analysis (web, TV, radio, press). For over 20 years, its research team, supported by a network of academics and experts in the field of media and communication, has aimed to “safeguard social, cultural and political pluralism through the development of innovative research and analysis methods”. Its work is used by the Parliamentary Supervisory Commission of RAI (Italian Public Television). Its international collaborations are numerous (from the Council of Europe to the United Nations, through NGOs) and its approach to media monitoring has been adopted by the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Election Observation Missions.
Not much is said about innovating
The Amref report analyses how innovation in Africa is treated by the Italian media and concludes that “there is little talk about it, and often in the wrong way”. Two data confirm this: “The extreme marginalisation of the topic, present in specialised publications but hardly in the mainstream media, and the almost exclusive exogenous connotation of the changes, mostly described as the consequences of projects exported from Italy or, more generally, from the West”. In the 75 television programmes analysed (829 episodes), only 6% of the frames (50) are dedicated to the theme of innovation and development in Africa. Of these references, 92% were recorded on the Rai networks, including 70% on Rai3. The online editions and Facebook pages of the 62 main Italian newspapers and media dedicated to Africa were also scarce: only 96 articles and 28 Facebook posts published during the year were dedicated to innovation processes in Africa. The main focus was on the economic sector, with “an emphasis on cooperation projects that start in Europe, with the perception of a continent ‘under protection’. The only examples of a complex and continuous narrative are networks for the distribution of the 5G signal and initiatives for the transport of fossil fuels,” the NGO added.
Innovations promoted by Amref
During the presentation of the report in Rome, several projects promoted by the NGO in the field of innovation were launched. In Uganda, for example, the Kokono project (carried out with De-Lab, Società Benefit and B-Corp) was presented, which aims to “provide a concrete response to the high rate of child mortality due to malaria”. It is a portable cradle equipped with a mosquito net, “capable of protecting the health of the little ones and at the same time contributing to the empowerment of women, allowing them to work while carrying their children safely”. Another project mentioned is 3Map (developed by the social enterprise TriM), which enables the collection, recording, analysis and dissemination of information to counter the effects of adverse climatic events. The system ‘enables the sharing of weather forecasts by sending back temperature and rainfall forecasts, which, disseminated from village to village, improve the planning of pastures and crops and reduce the impact of any natural disasters’.