The prevailing narratives told about Africa have for too long focused on portraying the continent as broken, poor and corrupt – the hopeless problem child that cannot get its act together.
Africa No Filter calls this unethical reporting in its How to write about Africa in 8 steps handbook, which seeks to address the imbalances in storytelling about the continent.
Unethical stories, according to the guide, are those which:
- Focus on a community or individual’s deficit rather than their agency
- Stories that depict development organisations as the heroes
- Images that are stereotypical or stock images which do not reflect the subjects of the story
- Stories that rely on pity to engage audiences
- Using terms that are loaded with stereotypes
- Narratives that do not “identify a common humanity”
Conversely, ethical storytelling highlights the successes and agency on the people in the stories. Ethical stories will:
- Show Africans as capable and innovative
- Highlight how Africans can collaborate with each other
- Show Africans, their communities and organisations as central to the story
- Provide context and nuance in addressing problems
- Not rely on pity to sway audiences
- Report on African countries separate and not treat Africa as a single country
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The guide recommends that in order to overcome unethical reporting the underlying causes of this reporting must be addressed.
- The issue of unequal power relations has to be challenged. This plays out when people working for development agencies, most of whom are privileged, go into a situation under the guise of helping because they have the aid. Yet they are in actual fact wielding their power against aid recipients who feel obligated to those giving out aid. Those in power, including journalists, are urged to check their privilege when they are entering these communities as this will assist them to recognise their assumptions and prejudices.
- Ensuring respectful engagements is a key part of ethical reporting as it helps the interviewer to view the interviewee as a human being and it builds trust between the parties involved.
- Tackling implicit bias in the hiring process by choosing locals as co-creators of stories rather than relying on only those people employed by the development agency or other outsiders. This will help to ensure that local storytellers are empowered to tell the stories they want heard versus those that the funders want to tell.
- Addressing implicit bias in storytelling by showing the innovative ways in which locals are addressing issues within their communities rather than portraying them as oppressed, passive recipients.
- Using ethical guidelines and understanding informed consent correctly by ensuring that locals understand what informed or ‘deep consent’ is. To report ethically, storytellers should receive the consent of their subjects and ensure that their rights are upheld through tools such as consent forms that will detail why the information is being gathered, how the story will be used and the risks of sharing the story.
- Understanding the local context is important because it is people in the communities who will be left behind to pick up once the story has been told. Therefore storytellers should make provisions for support to affected locals after the fact
- Investing time in your projects by planning thoroughly ahead of time will avoid unethical practices.
- Investing in your people by having resources available for ethics training, counselling training, supporting vulnerable groups and showing genuine care for people during the process of creating a story.
Click here to read the full report.