This week’s blog comes from Aoife Kirk. Aoife studied Politics and History in NUI Maynooth and is currently taking part in our Insight 2014 programme.
I am obsessed with it. When I wake up every morning, I am immediately on my phone flicking through pages upon pages of news. I go straight to the Irish Times, then to thejournal.ie, followed by Aljazeera for world news. The radio is constantly on in my house, updating us with news flashes and bulletins. I watch the six o’clock news followed by the news at nine just in case something important has happened in the space of two hours. You must think that my day is filled with doom and gloom, because news items contain devastating reports on war, death, economic depression, accidents- especially all these terrifying plane crashes. News items and how they are reported colour our perceptions of different countries and cultures around the world.
You know near the end of the RTE Six-One news just before the weather forecast, there is a light, inspirational and warming piece of news that makes you think, “Ah, Ireland really isn’t such a bad place at all”? In the past two years, I have made a point of following African news stories. While studying politics, I became more and more interested in African development and the arguments surrounding it and so I aimed to educate myself. One of the main things that stood out for me was that there was rarely any positive African news on the websites I frequented. I found that there is a portrayal of Africa as a violent, disease- ridden, place of poverty where children starve to death and women walk miles for water. Images of Africa were sad children’s faces or aggressive warlords. Yes, disease is more common in Africa and war is more common, however this is only one small part of the whole story. I try to add positive news into my daily in-take, yet I have to go and find it myself. Some people believe in the phrase, “no news is good news”. I on the other hand, believe that the good news exists and needs to be found and spread around the world!
Searching for positive news stories is a difficult job. The media publishes articles that they feel are news worthy, what will get the most hits, tweets, shares etc. They decide what they think is important for us to know about the other side of the world. The 24th of June, news for Africa was Ebola virus, Algerian plane crash and a Sudanese women fleeing to Italy from a death sentence in her home country. I am not claiming that these are not news worthy- they are most likely the top stories in Africa too- but the positive stuff is always hard to find. I searched the BBC and scoured Aljazeera for something interesting, something that I would never have known about unless I purposely went looking for it. I found two stories, one about a female Malawian netball player (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-28264458) and another about the Kenyan government’s attempts at reducing youth unemployment (http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2014/07/kenya-tries-tackle-youth-unemployment-201472463345503624.html). Both stories changed my preconceptions of these two countries.
Before I watched this short video report, all I really knew about Kenya was that there have been recent bombings in Nairobi and Mombasa and that they grow a lot of coffee there. This small news report helped me to understand reality in Kenya. I realised that young people, like me, face difficulty finding employment and the state promises them help to start their own businesses. This is a story I can relate to as a young, unemployed person who is disillusioned with what the state has to offer to help people find suitable employment. The story on the Malawian netball player was also mind opening. This woman, Mary Waya, had trained herself since she was a child, in the sport. Malawi is the fifth best team in the world and Mrs. Waya, the team’s head coach, is a national sporting hero. These stories make you see another side of a country that you may never have known about.
I always want the full picture. Not some, not half, I want all of it. The media will rarely portray that because their aim is to mediate the stories that generate the most interest. News reports pass on information about different countries that we use to inform ourselves. If we get biased, negative news consistently enough, our perception of that place is one-sided and pessimistic. As global citizens, we need to inform ourselves about other countries and cultures. We should aim to create a balanced and objective picture of the world we live in, instead of relying on the media. Just like in Ireland, there are positive and inspiring stories out there that will blow you away. All you have to do is look!
To begin your search, check out some of these websites: