Southern Africa in the New York Times

Photo by Francis Wu under a CC Licence

Africa – the continent that always seems to have to go that extra mile or so in a bid to convince the editors of media corporations that its news is worth printing, airing and/or uploading (more often than not, the editors remain unconvinced). This post is a brief overview of the quantity of coverage by the New York Times of the sixteen countries that make up southern Africa for the first quarter of 2012 (January to March).

The following is the number of words (and the percentage of the whole) devoted to news primarily focused on each of the countries of the region, in descending order.

South Africa:__9,247 words (56%)
D.R. Congo:___3,683 words (22%)
Mozambique:__1,219 words (7%)
Zimbabwe:____1,023 words (6%)
Madagascar:___963 words (6%)
Seychelles:____273 words (2%)
Malawi:______88 words (1%)
Angola:______0 words (0%)
Botswana:____0 words (0%)
Comoros_____ 0 words (0%)
Lesotho:_____0 words (0%)
Mauritius:____0 words (0%)
Namibia:_____0 words (0%)
Swaziland:____0 words (0%)
Tanzania:_____0 words (0%)
Zambia:______0 words (0%)
TOTAL:______16,496 words

News about the region’s major power, South Africa, accounts for more than half of the total quantity of coverage. Twelve articles cover a variety of topics, from the expulsion of the controversial ANC Youth Leader from the party, to the hospitalization of Nelson Mandela, to social issues associated with the informal economy. The five articles devoted to the D.R. Congo cover the armed conflict and instability in that country, and questions over the dubious election results from the previous year. Perhaps most worthy of note here though, is that not a single drop of ink was shed over the events in more than half (nine) of the countries in the region, including relatively large and powerful Angola and Tanzania.

From another perspective, how does the total of 16,496 words devoted to the region compare to the New York Times’ coverage other parts of world? Over the same period, Israel alone (one of the most consistently popular objects of media coverage) garnered 36,604 words – more than double the coverage for the entire region of southern Africa. That sounds fair, you might say. Israel is, after all, considering the possibility of bombing Iran, and violent armed conflict goes on in neighbouring Syria. On the other hand, the situation in the D.R. Congo, which attracted but a tenth of the coverage of Israel, is no small matter either. The country is the size of western Europe, and the simmering pockets of conflict, which are remnants of the deadliest conflict the world has seen in the past half-century, continue to serve as major security concerns to its many neighbours.

Let’s try another comparison. In January 2012, a cruise ship called the Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy killing some 32 people. Coverage of this single accident and its aftermath garnered 14,960 words in the New York Times, which is just slightly less than the total amount of coverage devoted to southern Africa. The incident was certainly a tragedy, but in terms of newsworthiness, did it deserve to rival the sum total of three-months worth of events in the entire southern African region, including the ongoing tragedy in the D.R. Congo? Certainly is worth a thought.

3 Responses to “Southern Africa in the New York Times”

  1. I really agree with you about this issue and as of me l take Africa as the forgotten continent so the people of new York times think that their is no need for the persistent publication on issues concerning Africa as almost all the people in the modern world which in Africa is known as the western world they don’t care about things that take place in Africa . in all the world news papers at-least the news of Mandela getting bed ridden will be written than the conflicts such as Somalian and Congo conflicts where very many Africans loose their lives . how do you think that the media coverage concerning African issues can be changed? Because it is not only the south African states that are not written about but their are some countries which can take even a full year with out being published in any international news paper.

  2. Thanks John. This is a very difficult question and there are no quick answers. To give a very simplified idea though, we have to remember that media corporations are basically businesses. If they think there is demand for information, they will publish it. The perceived demand may be from the public or from policymakers. I would suggest that more people need to let the media institutions know that they are interested in Africa. This could mean large numbers of letters to the editor, but in this day and age, media corporations are also busy watching how many times a story online is clicked. I guess we need to get a lot of people out there clicking on the few stories written about Africa…

  3. I strongly agree with this but what about the fact that very few Africans can access the intern ate and most of those who does they are only face booking, so how can we really do this because I strongly think that Africa have to be published on the international seen as very many things happen in Africa and it ends up taking around three years to see such issues burning on the international seen for example the Kony staff had happened along time ago but no one cared about it until this year , very many conflicts in Africa are not talked about for a very long period of time and even the good things about Africa are not always said as the media only reports about the conflicts and all that staff so in this, I want to ask you Sir. how we can change the international media coverage towards Africa and how to get the people to check on the few issues that are mentioned.

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