DRCongo: Do Canadian public media hear when we cry ?

Relaying African Perspectives and Analyses

********************************************* * *  *   *     *
TITLE: DRCongo: Do Canadian public media hear when we cry ?
AUTHOR: justin pabu
CATEGORY: Central Region
DATE: 5/20/2003
SOURCE: AfricaFiles
SOURCE WEBSITE: www.africafiles.org

SUMMARY & COMMENT: There are allegations of large scale massacres in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Surprisingly Canadian public media remained silent on these killings. The author shares his impressions on the silence of Canadian media. JP
********************************************* * *  *   *     *

Do Canadian public media hear when we cry ? 

Justin Pabu

The world is about to witness another genocide, and yet Canadian public media are hopelessly silent about it. What is going on in the public media world?

Saturday May 18, 2003, Anne Mbombo, the chair person of Alliance de Congolais de l'Ontario, is concerned. "What is going on here? What is wrong with the Congo? Why are the Canadian public media so silent about the killing of thousands in Eastern Congo ? Is there out there someone who can explain this silence to me? I don't understand. No, I don't get it. Can someone tell me why the killings in Congo have not attracted public media attention?" she said, sadly. "Something is definitely wrong. City TV mentioned that there might be another genocide going on in Eastern Congo and that's it. No further comments."

I have wished thousand times I had clear answer to Anne's questions. I wish I could tell her what is wrong. I do not have the right answer. Nonetheless, I undertook to explain to myself as well as to the Board of the Ontario Congolese Alliance the reason why I think the war in Congo is forgotten and why the killings that take place in Eastern Congo attract less interest and attention than the war in Iraq.

My feeling is that I analyze the Canadian public media silence and attitude from the perspective of political economy. This is not enough. There must be more to our analysis than that. There should be an anthropological and a psychological approach too. Anyway, I gave the Board the following reasons to explain why Canadian public media did not call attention on the killings in Congo.

The most obvious reason, for me, is probably the fact that media producers never rush into publicizing something they don't have enough support for. I don't know of any journalist or of any international journalist who is in Bunia in Eastern Congo at the present time. The place is not safe. Our sources are missionaries, UN agencies and local NGOs. They are not professionals - even though they are often very reliable sources. I doubt there is any contract between these sources and Canadian public media. For a good reason, Congo has become a no-go zone, a zone of turbulence. It is not connected. This could explain why Canadian public media are so cautious about the killings in Congo.

The second reason for The Canadian media silence and attitude is that the Congolese are an invisible minority in Ontario, and as such they are - and will probably remain - voiceless, unless they decide to consolidate their organically in solidarity with one another - rather than importing their former divisions in Congo into Canada . Too often, the world is willing to listen to a melody rather than to a cacophony; it likes to hear many people singing one voice rather than all speaking at once. Babel is a depressing experience. No media producer is willing to deal with people who endlessly argue and fight. If Congo-Canadians want the world to hear their voice, they better speak as one person. This does mean uniformity, but it does mean unity. This does mean consolidating the Congolese community's capabilities and increasing its efficiency. People get upset hearing of all the delays in Inter-Congolese peace talks. Making peace has never been easy. However , if Congolese endlessly fight when given a chance to talk and make peace, then , such people need to be left alone. Maybe the cacophony will end some day. That can explain why the world does want to hear any more about this country.

As far as the safety of our folks in Bunia is concerned, we need to act strategically, using our common sense. And common sense suggests that we act as a community, not as an aggregate of conflicting ethnic groups.

The third reason is that newspapers and TV chains in Canada operate as profit-driven business enterprises. They used to be more open to disseminating news. But nowadays, they have become increasingly dependent on advertising rather than subscriptions fees for their revenues. Owners, therefore, try to expand circulation to attract more advertising. Thus, the Congolese community that has no money will have difficulty getting the media attention, no matter how important and tragic the news they want to give. In other words, commercialization and dependency on advertising determine the content of media and the preference of producers.

To attract audiences and advertisers, program directors are likely to avoid depressing topics such as massacres. Maybe North American people prefer the violence to be in the movies, but not in real life. Anne pointed out that, if this was true, then there would be less talk about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in Canadian public media. She said that these are real tragedies for real people. If the tears of all human beings are salty, if the pain and the hurting of victims of violence are the same, there should not be any difference in treatment of news coverage - regardless of where the people come from. I do agree with Anne. But partly only.

Because, again, the Congolese are an invisible minority without significant money; they can't expect to have the same treatment as those who have money. Of course all human suffering deserves equal respect and equal attention. But, in practice, invisible minorities have fewer chances to attract media attention; no matter how important their suffering may be .

The fourth reason for Canadian public media attitude toward Congo's killings has something to do with money. In the Congo's scramble, world businesses are involved.

They have no interest in being in the spot lights or in being exposed. Nor do they want some foolish and independent investigators to disclose their misdeeds in the Congo. Who knows how far reckless investigators can go? These businesses may be Canadian. They may not be. Anyway, they would rather make certain media corporations stay away from this region. "Who cares?" they ask cynically, "if thousands are killed in Congo? 'Savages' always kill one another. There is nothing new. Let's talk about important things. Let's have fun."

This is to say also that there seems to be strong pressures in the Canadian media world to reflect only mainstream social views. This is of particular importance and needs some explanation. Canadian audiences are more and more attracted by what we call up here "fun". Media producers have often described Africa as the least fortunate place in the world. Consequently, Canadian audiences prefer not hear about those "heathen countries". They prefer to have fun while watching their TV or while reading their newspapers. They don't want any dealing with depressing stories from Africa. Many TV viewers are offended in their dignity when they see these starving African kids on their screen. What the hell is that? There is no fun anymore when you start talking about massacres and genocide. This is depressing. Emotionally and psychologically, they are not comfortable with news of killings - particularly of African killings.

I feel people are tired of hearing about Africa as a continent of extremely precarious living conditions. This is perfectly understandable. One could actually object that this image of Africa "heathen continent" is made up for some ideological purposes. I have neither intention nor time to explore that point here. However I think this aspect is often overlooked when analyzing the Western media toward Africa. What messages do Canadian public media intend to communicate to their audiences about Africa?

All this talk may not do any good for the cause I intend to fight for. My feeling is that we Congolese people are often forgotten. This is the message people in Congo want me to convey to my fellows Canadian citizens. I think our public media should give Congo-Canadians some room in their coverage, so that we can speak for themselves. Africa may be poor, weak, and God knows whatever else, but Africa has a great deal of wisdom and values that we are proud to share with the world. And we can do it, if media producers listen to us when we have something to say. I want them to listen now that we are hurting and crying with people in Eastern Congo. I hope our voice will be heard and international action taken.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the members of the Africafiles Collective.

is a network of volunteers committed to promoting human rights and economic justice in Africa and to hearing African perspectives and alternative analyses for viable human development in Africa.

AFRICA INFOSERV: E-mail and web clipping service (kirkwood@web.ca).
AT ISSUE: Special topical collections.
ACTION FOCUS: Urgent actions.
AFRICA ARCHIVE: Articles since 1999

AFRICAFILES: 99 Kimberley Ave Toronto M4E 2Z4 Canada.