Jul 9 2007

Celebrities or Silence

FAIR Study on Media Coverage of Africa

A disproportionate percentage of already-scant network news coverage of Africa revolves around celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie, a new FAIR study finds. Such celebrity-driven coverage imparts remarkably little information about the continent and the people who live there, study author Julie Hollar reports.

Among the study’s findings:

  • In 2005 and 2006, ABC, CBS and NBC aired a total of 199 stories with a sub-Saharan African country, region or citizen as a primary subject. Thirty-one of these stories, or 15 percent of the networks’ Africa coverage over the two years, had a celebrity angle.
  • During Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war (1991-2002), the networks mentioned the role of diamonds in the conflict on average only twice a year, for a total of 26 mentions. In contrast, the networks featured the role of diamonds in the conflict in Sierra Leone in 11 stories in a single week in December 2005 when the Leonardo DiCaprio film Blood Diamond was released.
  • In 2005, the networks’ entire coverage of Malawi—a total of 38 stories—was concentrated on pop star Madonna’s controversial adoption of a Malawian child. The Madonna adoption story constituted more than two-thirds of the coverage the networks had devoted to Malawi over the past six years. In contrast, the two devastating famines Malawi suffered during this period—a major cause of Malawi’s swelling orphanages—for which the United Nations and aid agencies issued dire warnings and urgent pleas for aid, received only 6 mentions.
  • The celebrity-studded Live 8 concerts were the second-most widely reported Africa story on the evening news of 2005; with 14 segments, the concerts were barely edged out of first place by the 15 pieces broadcast on the Sudan crisis. Meanwhile, the network nightly news failed to even mention the Democratic Republic of Congo’s 2006 election, even though this was the first free election in 40 years, in a country where at least 4 million people have died since 1998.

The full article is available online: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3119