According to Internews Network, Africa’s media coverage of people living with disabilities (PwDs) has not been impressive and misrepresented this part of society. The US-based NGO made the remarks in Naivasha Kenya during the launch of its manual about reporting on PwDs.
The media has projected people living with disabilities (PwDs) as weaklings hence in need of sympathy, findings by Internews Network revealed.
The international non-governmental organization that supports media literacy said such portrayal was unfortunate and unfair since PwDs have similar potential as their non-disabled counterparts.
The report – Disability Reporting in the Media (2021) – lays bare some of the misreporting by Kenya’s legacy media regarding PwDs.
The 17-page report lists four key outcomes of the study and wants the media to address them to have proper coverage of the people with disabilities.
Righting the wrong on PwDs coverage
They include strengthening media capacity and empowering journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa to increase media coverage on disability issues. Journalists could achieve this by telling stories from a more humanising angle, ensuring they present disability issues in a way that promotes the dignity of PwDs, as well as amplifying their voices and perspectives in an accurate and balanced manner.
Other ways of promoting coverage on PwDs are: Transferring specialised skills to African journalists to enhance awareness by dispelling the negative stereotypes.
Such training could help counter stigma and misinformation against PwDs, change the narrative, and create disability reporting champions/ fellows who will identify and report on PwDs issues in a more impactful way.
Role of media in shaping opinion
According to the report, there is a need to improve media literacy on PwD issues since media images and stories influence public opinion and establish social norms.
“Media has contributed to the misrepresentation (of PwD issues). There is a lack of representation and reinforcement of negative stereotypes. Moreover, when PwDs appear in the media, they’re often portrayed in stigmatising ways, as objects of pity, as superheroes or as mere statistics,” a statement by the organisation said.
Stakeholders now want journalists and communicators to shape the public image of people with disabilities by eliminating insensitive portrayal that reinforces myths, which it argues is a form of discrimination.
“We’re looking at the training of journalists on in-depth reporting, offer grants( to journalists to do stories on PwDs) and connect them with organisations dealing with PwDs to help change the narrative in the country,” Jackline Lidubwi, Internews Project Lead, told the EAST site in an interview.
Focus on achievement, not disability
Lidubwi noted that the media does not focus on what the person with a disability has done. She said many reports hardly mention what PwDs have achieved for society, but rather their disabilities.
On his part, Dr John Ndavula, Senior Lecturer and Disability Researcher, noted that the media coverage of people with disabilities has been, in most cases, negative hence the need to change the narrative.
“This is a global problem but worse in developing countries. This is because it is tied with poverty. When you do a negative story, the impact is huge in Africa – it goes a long way. For instance, in Europe and the US, mainstreaming is prominent, so the impact won’t be much biased based on their laws,” Dr Ndavula said, adding that the ignorance towards issues of disability and even little interest from scholars and leaders compounds the problem.
“As a major player, the media needs to problematise how we treat people with disability to help change the perception,” he concluded.
Paul Mugambi, who is visually impaired and is the founder of Disability Sausage Media and Consultancy Think Tank, reckons that society needs to be just to all.
“There is a need for media houses to do a disability index assessment to help improve the situation. People with disabilities want to be part of society,” said Mugambi.
In summary, the following are issues to consider when covering people with disabilities:
Millions living with disability in Africa
According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.
In Tanzanian, for instance, people living albinism have been attacked on the pretext that their body parts can offer charm to witchdoctors.
“People with disabilities are rendered invisible in the media, and when they do, the media coverage of them is not favourable,” ILO said in its report.
Faith Oneya, an editor at the Nation Media Group, agrees with the findings. “We own up to the mistakes we’ve done in the past. But, unfortunately, even our journalists are ignorant, and it goes back to the training- the curriculum they’ve had,” Faith told the EAST site.
“When we launched DN2 Parenting in 2020, one of my goals was to bring back reporting on disabilities, and during my research phase, I asked a question on Facebook about People Living with Disabilities, and that’s when I was told how politically incorrect and insensitive the phrase was.”
The report specifically analysed eight major variables which include: newsroom structure and resources, media ownership and business models, organisational capacity, innovation culture, journalism culture, financial trends and results, content quality and COVID-19.
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Media stakeholders are raising concerns over the lack of gender-inclusive reporting in East African newsrooms. They want concerted efforts to ensure more female journalists get equal opportunities like their male counterparts.
The partnership will also ensure that local content is curated and distributed to better optimize the product and meet the needs of Kenyan online users.
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Reporting on elections is, for many journalists, an opportunity to establish themselves as reliable political reporters. But the task comes with certain risks, particularly in the East African sub-region.
Stakeholders are now calling for concerted efforts, better planning and preparations for journalists before they are sent out on the field to cover Kenya’s high-stakes August 9 General Elections.
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The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.
Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).
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In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.
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