Western Media Misunderstands South Sudan

Harvard political analyst Nanjala Nyabola argues that the Western media does not understand the nuances of culture and language, and therefore engage in simplistic commentaries on the rising violence in South Sudan. Nyabola argues that Sudanese people inhabit multiple cultural perspectives through their use of multiple languages alone. Western journalists report from a predominantly English-language perspective which misses the nuances of communication. These journalists are only hearing certain phrases that validate their Western point of view.

Nyabola writes:

“So when a foreign journalist enters a space in which he speaks the formal but only understands the informal, a great deal will necessarily be lost in translation… There is an easy way to resolves this of course: ask Africans what they think and have them tell their own stories, instead of co-opting them to undermine or reinforce existing narratives among the Western audience. But given the aforementioned racial hierarchy of knowledge in the Western public sphere, I doubt this will happen and we should all prepare ourselves for another bout of misunderstanding.”

Read more: http://buff.ly/1aslisS.

Image by Surian Soosay via Flickr, CC.

2 thoughts on “Western Media Misunderstands South Sudan


  1. The ideas are good, but I am not sure that journalists need to be able to report the facts accurately.  It is the job of the political leaders involved to have this intimate knowledge, others of us, far away and not involved, it is more information of others and their plight, but we do not affect the choices of the leaders all that much.  The journalists are more for us who are not involved, so the accuracy is not so important.  Hopefully the leaders have way better informants than the rest of us have. and they want to help.

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  2. Hi Joey Brockert Thanks for your comment. The journalism code of ethics in every nation explicitly addresses the need to report facts accurately. In fact, the the American code begins with “Seek Truth and Report It.”  The other sections of the code are: Minimise harm; Act Independently; and Be Accountable. This means that journalists and their cultural biases do not get a free pass.


    In Australia, journalism courses begin with the idea that the media’s main aim is to “keep the bastards honest.” By “bastards” they mean politicians.


    Of course our leaders should be honest and transparent. But so should journalists. Below is an excerpt of the American code of ethics that apply to the story I linked to above.


    Journalists should:


    Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.


    Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.


    Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.


    Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status…


    Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.


    Source: Society of Professional Journalists http://goo.gl/zh5k21 Learn more: Pew Journalism Project: http://goo.gl/uZB3ow

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