Africa’s World Cup

So, it’s all over and the analysis begins. The football was generally disappointing but at least South Africa staged the whole event efficiently – even if many locals couldn’t afford to attend the games. There was a fair amount of coverage of the reaction across Africa, especially the way in which Africans from different countries got behind Ghana when they became the only African team to qualify.

There were several stories about the media coverage that media students might want to pursue. One that might run for a while concerned the BBC’s decision to build its own dedicated media centre in Cape Town even though many the logistics hub of the event was in Johannesburg a thousand miles away. When this was announced the Daily Mail used it as a stick to beat the BBC for ‘wasteful spending’ (the Mail’s attacks on the BBC are fuelled by an ideology which attacks any form of public spending and also by competitive instincts). Now that the competition is over, the media centre will be dismantled and ‘flat-packed’ for future use. The whole venture will also have acted as a dry run for the coverage of the Olympics in 2012. By then, the BBC should have moved its sports broadcasting centre to Salford – 200 miles from the focus of the games in East London.

But the main story about the BBC (and ITV) for me is their failure to properly present African issues to a popular audience. The main thrust of the UK TV coverage of Africa outside the stadiums has been driven by celebrity-centred formats. Many of these are worthy in a Blue Peter way (Blue Peter is a children’s TV programme loved and loathed in the UK). When one game ended ‘early’ (without extra time or penalties) BBC coverage offered us a report on pundit Clarence Seedorf’s visit to Robben Island where political prisoners used football as a unifying activity in their struggle to prepare for the overthrow of the apartheid regime. This was fine as an idea but what does a Dutch footballer bring to the report that a South African couldn’t? Other BBC programming offered us a reality TV series in which an Englishwoman becomes a ‘tribal wife’ and a series in which celebrity journalist/presenter Jonathan Dimbleby toured Africa. Here are clips (the Tribal Wives clip is from an earlier series):

I haven’t seen these series and I’m sure that they are highly professional and informative. Dimbleby is an experienced journalist with deep knowledge of African affairs. But my point is that:

  • this kind of programming is patronising in suggesting that UK audiences won’t watch anything without a British guide to what they are watching and,
  • there are many highly talented but underemployed African filmmakers who could be commissioned with proper budgets to make African films about Africa. Mali, where Dimbleby investigates the growth of the capital city Bamako has produced several world-class film directors such as Souleymane Cissé and Abderrahmane Sissako. Why not get one of them to make a documentary/fiction feature? (To be fair to the BBC they have featured Sissako on the World Service – listen here to his explanation of the decline of cinemas in Africa.)

During the World Cup a radio sketch put all of this into context when it depicted a scene in a bar in Soweto in which radio reporters from the UK attempt to interview locals about the football – only to discover that all the other customers are reporters from other European or American media outlets. There is a sense that all we saw of Africa during this World Cup was heavily mediated through the perspective of outside agencies.

On our sister blog, The Case for Global Film, there are several entries about African films, filmmakers and cinema infrastructure which attempt to redress the absence of African voices. Explore them through the African Cinema category.

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