Sunday, November 26, 2006

News Coverage

The EU -Africa Ministerial Conference on Migration and Development took place last week, November 22-23. I check Google News headlines daily because, for whatever reason, I think (or rather used to think) that it was relatively un-biased and represented the "most important," "need to know" stories, but over the past week I noticed nothing on this conference, which seems like a pretty big deal. Rather, I learned of the conference by way of allAfrica, where it made the front page on November 24th, right under the stories about Rwanda's decision to cut ties with France (more recent story). I wondered, what's up with Google? Have they become just like every other cotton candy news source? So, I Googled "Google News biased" (ironic? maybe), and found this from the USC (that's the University of Southern California, not South Carolina; it has been argued that the University of South Carolina is the original USC because it was established 75 years earlier than the University of Southern California, however I argue that the University of Southern California is the real USC because it aquired the web domain before South Carolina) Annenberg Center for Communication Online Journalism Review. Turns out that Google's algorithms are causing the bias. In trying to be un-biased by using algorithms, Google News is actually perpetuating a bias in news. Hmmm... I guess I'll have to look somewhere else for my news, maybe allAfrica. But wait, what's this? allAfrica is biased? Yup, from my Google search of "Google News biased," I found this, "It's not all Africa @" Can good news be found anywhere?

Last night I happened across a television channel, LinkTV, while scanning the tube for something to dull my mind for a bit, to take a break from staring at my computer screen and writing. Scrolling through the channels, I stopped at what looked like a music video, a group of black men singing into the camera. I stopped because rather than being set in the streets of New York, LA, St. Louis, Atlanta, etc, the setting looked like a West African village. I was confused. My first thought was that this was some sort of statement being made by a US hip hop/rap group, deliberately choosing, or creating, an "African" setting, but then I realized the men were not singing in English, I couldn't even recognize the language in which they were singing. By now I had figured out that this was a music video coming out of, that is produced in, Africa, but I was still confused because I couldn't figure out what place it had on the television set in my boyfriend's apartment in Irvine (Orange County), California; he doesn't subscribe to any special networks or packages, just the basic cable that all graduate student residents get with their rent. By this point my boyfriend was also glued to the tv, we kept asking each other, "What is this?" not because we didn't know what it was, but because we didn't know what it was doing in our living room without our solicitation of it. It turned out to be a video from Senegal. We watched a few others, another from Senegal, and one (or two?) from Mali, before a bumper popped up declaring the channel we were watching as, "LinkTV: Television Without Borders." We both expected a commercial and got up to leave the room, but no commercial came, instead an announcement, next up was a program that profiled Chinese restaurants across the world, this installment would be on Turkey
(the country), we sat back down and watched the whole thing all the way through, uninterupted, it was wonderful.

The bumper popped up again, we opened our laptops and googled "LinkTV." There we found out that LinkTV is a channel available via satellite (Wikipedia claims that it reaches 1 in 4 homes in the US), never runs commercials, and is funded by individual and organizational donations. We also found and watched, MOSAIC:World news from the Middle East. The first segment was on the recent increase of violence in Iraq. The tone was similar to that of BBC or CNN, and the segments began as would any FOX or CBS local or national news program, reporting the statistics, how many dead, where, who, by whom, but the video clips were much more extended, and showed more violence, more suffering, more women and children, less men with guns, and something I have never seen on the major network or cable news shows, refugees.

Back to the EU-Africa Conference and allAfrica . . . after reading the articles listed under the Conference headline on allAfrica, the only one I found to be intriguing was this one, "Senegal: 'Mankind is Like This - One Wants to Get Ahead'", which wasn't even directly related to the conference. I liked this article because it addressed migration on a personal level, telling the story of a man trying to migrate from Senegal to the Canary Islands. The story and the man addressed migration as a cultural practice, the other articles took the same, tired stance on Africa, migration, aid and development, even the conference notes did not mention the cultural significance of migration, rather contextualizing it in terms of aid and development from Europe and the US.

Like this blog post, African migration is a process, an activity (as you can probably tell, I really like this concept of activity), that should be analyzed by standing back and looking at the whole picture, while taking the time to zoom into particular practices. This approach produces the potential to recognize grand patterns and contextualize them appropriately, and conversely to recognize specific cases and pattern and contextualize them appropriately. Until then, such conferences and programs on migration, development, aid, etc will continue to target the symptoms, and then only to eradicate or alleviate, rather than accommodate them, not the causes of such "problems."

No comments: