Inaugural MAAMAs: Reporting on Disasters, Crises and Political Conflict in Africa

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The Inaugural Mohamed Amin Africa Media Awards (MAAMAs) have been a mixture of topical lectures and nitty-gritty professional development workshops aimed at news providers from across the continent. Russell Southwood was one of the judges for the awards and was at the three-day event this week in Nairobi.

The MAAMAs were put on by Africa24 Media and stand as a tribute to the lasting influence of founder Salim Amin’s father, the famous news cameraman Mohamed Amin. The MAAMAs are the awards part of the event and the winners are listed by category at the end of this story.

Africa24 Media has moved to the Multimedia University Campus on the edge of Nairobi and will shortly offer a portfolio of short courses. The conference part of the MAAMAs is perhaps a bit like Africa24 Media setting out its stall in terms of areas it might cover. For example, Bob Furnad, former President, CNN Headline News gave a master-class in how to create a compelling news formats and Joey Mugwere, Executive Producer, Sports Events, Supersports did the same for live sports coverage.

Canon was a sponsor of the event and gave a detailed run-through of both its own camera and lens products but also what to think about when buying new digital cameras.

At a level beyond the technical detail, the Canon representative’s most interesting contribution was to explain the difference between cameras made for broadcast and those made for film. Indeed as he said, the world can be split into videographers (who make for broadcast) and cinematographers (who shoot films).

Up until this point, a great deal of what had been said was about the formats of TV news and why these formats are important for the viewer. Although there is some flexibility in these formats, they are the almost unchanging language and grammar of news globally. This was probably fine when there were far fewer news programmes and no news channels.

But now there are hundreds of both, the formats often seem like bars to a cage or a dulling opiate rather than a helpful guide for the viewer. Indeed as they are often applied in Africa, it is hard to tell news programmes apart except for differences in idents and levels of professionalism.

Wail Gozy, Technical Manager and Head of Multimedia, Africa24 Media mounted a fairly convincing argument for inserting more elements of visual creativity into news presentation. The more recent generation of documentary makers often bring something to understanding complex human stories that news teams (with admittedly tighter deadlines) seem to have forgotten.

Two panel sessions stood out from the rest of the sessions: one on Television Production Standards and another on Reporting Disasters, Crises and Political Conflicts in Africa. What follows is what I found interesting from discussions that ranged over many issues.

The first panel session on standards had the following panellists: Peter Murimi (a Kenyan documentary maker); Tunde Osho (Deputy Head of News, TVC); Tom Kirkwood (who runs the Africa Insight News Agency) and Bob Furnad. Tunde Osho acknowledged that progress had been made:”We believe that we have upped the ante but there’s still a long way to go.”

Tom Kirkwood was more reluctant to say there was an international standard:”The viewer determines what’s an acceptable international standard…what holds the attention is the story itself.” New platforms like You Tube have changed people’s view of what they find acceptable.

Peter Murimi made the point that over 10 years ago broadcast organisations and camera operators didn't have the right equipment because it was simply too expensive. This was no longer true:”There’s now no excuse not to have an international standard.”

There was a question about how far would you go to tell a story and what would you show or not show. Osho made the point that his teams sometimes wanted to be self-censoring during the recent elections, worrying what Government might think. In the event they ran the pieces that worried them and there was no come-back from Government. Perhaps part of the self-censoring fear came from the belief that the Government never really changed at the ballot box?

There was a discussion about whether it was right to show people being physically attacked or killed as had happened during the most recent spate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Peter Murimi told of a colleague embedded with Al Shabab who were keen for him to show a beheading: the colleague declined. Whilst acknowledging that it was always a judgement call, Bob Furnad said:”If we filter too much, we baby the audience and they don’t know how awful it is.”

Interestingly, “brown bag syndrome” was only raised by a questioner from the floor. Peter Murimi told of an incident from the last Kenyan elections where a candidate came over and told everyone to switch off the cameras. He then proceeded to give them each KS5,000.

Murimi filmed the incident surreptitiously but was subsequently unable to get it aired: the candidate insisted he was only making charitable donations. And when the cameramen were asked by Murimi why they didn’t report it to the police, they simply responded by saying this is how things work here.

The panellists in the session on reporting crises and disaster were: Jonathan Chapman, Head of BBC News Africa; Marcia Thomas, Director of USA for Africa (responsible for the We Are The World single); Daniel Furnad, COO Africa24 (longtime news journalist and son of Bob) and Amadou Mahtar Ba, Executive Chairman AllAfrica Global Media and the founder of the African Media Initiative.

Normally these kinds of discussions start with a tone of wounded pride that Africa seems to get portrayed as being all about wars, famine, poverty and bad things. The problem with the simple version of the argument is that proportionately the continent does have more than its fair share of bad things.

The other positive side of the coin always sounds slightly forced where news becomes uplifting moments in a seamless Africa Rising narrative. The danger is swapping one simplification for another equally unhelpful set of simplifications.

It’s complicated because it’s different and it’s many different places and they need to be explained, not sucked into simple narratives that gloss the difficult stuff. I remember an early story from a highly respected British international news organisation after the 2007 Kenyan election violence that argued it was all about the poor against the rich. Later stories dropped this line and focused on the rather more convincing “tribe” and ethnicity explanations.

Jonathan Chapman acknowledged that the BBC had a double problem. As a global news organisation, African stories have to argue for their place on a daily basis against stories from around the world. But also that there were problems with longer term stories like Central African Republic and South Sudan, where conflicts were not speedily resolved: what could you say that would keep the viewers interested?

Amadou Ba argued that news organisations could not compete with social media and said when he was he was in Riyadh he got his first news and video about recent events in Burundi from Twitter. Jonathan Chapman came back later with the traditional journalist viewpoint that was that social media was full of inaccurate information and was hard to check: you had to have journalists to check information.

Daniel Furnad asked whether the panellists looked for “good news” stories. Chapman looked slightly pained in that rather restrained British way:”I’d rather use a different word to positive. It’s too black and white. I’d rather strive for personal stories where the audience can identify with the characters involved.”

The other panellists were keener on the notion of “good news” and Chapman conceded that the result of the Nigerian elections could be construed as “good news”. The problem is that there is a fairly unbridgeable gap between what often seems like the British version of journalism: speaking truth unto power leaves little space to admit that other things that are far less clear cut may be in play. On the “good news” side of the argument, it can at times come dangerously close to the old-fashioned “development journalism” which was meant to focus on development progress, not questioning it.

Amadou Ba made the point that it was a free media and a strong civil society sector that often (as in Burkina Faso) led to the speedy resolution of political conflicts before too many were killed. He got a ripple of applause for that and for pointing out that places like Burundi, Central African Republic and South Sudan lacked both of these elements.

The MAAMA Award Winners were as follows:

Best Magazine Entry: Christiana Ejiogu, Missing Chibok Girls, Nigeria

Best Newscast: Vivienne Irikefe, Ebola in Nigeria, Nigeria

Best Documentary: Maria Arbelaeza, Living With Ebola, Qatar

Most Innovative Programme: Jibril Mailafia, The Throne

Best Mobile Phone Content: Roger Gichui, Personally, Kenya

Best Sports Content: Tie

Promise Efoghe, Sports Week, Nigeria
Waihiga Mwaura, Poisoned Spikes, Kenya

Best CSR Initiative: Mercy Adundo, Blending In, Kenya

Best Use of Social Media Platform: Sharon Lukunka, UNAMID, Sudan

Student Award: Tie

Johnson Keregori, Checklist, Kenya
Roy Munge, Runaway Ticket, Kenya

“Creators and Innovators in Africa at the crossroads between Culture and Technology.”
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