Communications: 'Negative' view of Africa persists on TV

Last year may have been the time that Africa came under the media spotlight, but TV programmes about the continent still perpetuate negative stereotypes, according to new research.

The study, entitled The Real World?, was commissioned by VSO and used focus groups to look at the impact of TV on attitudes to developing countries.

Jonathan Dimbleby, the broadcaster and president of VSO, concluded in the report: "Even the Make Poverty History campaign and the Live 8 concerts inadvertently confirmed a stereotype of Africa on its knees."

The study was based on six focus groups, each made up of six people and four paired interviews. All participants were shown programmes made with the intention of showing a more balanced view of the continent, such as African School, about two typical schools in the Ugandan town of Masindi.

One woman who took part in the confidential survey said: "I don't normally like documentaries, but African School actually looked quite good."

The series was shown on BBC4, prompting VSO to question whether such programmes receive the right marketing and airtime.

Neera Dhingra, head of media at VSO, said: "Our research shows there is a real appetite for programmes about the developing world that show a more rounded view. But even when they are made, they are rarely shown on the main terrestrial channels during prime time."

The exception was Geldof in Africa, about which another member of the focus groups said: "It's nice to see the good side of Africa."

But given that there is fierce ratings competition between the channels, is it realistic for charities to call for such programming? As Moise Shewa, a producer who contributed to the report, said: "We have always been told that people don't want to watch development stories, so it's a risk in terms of ratings."

But this view was dismissed by Katy Migiro, a researcher in Christian Aid's media team.

"It might be difficult to interest viewers in programmes on the developing world - but it's far from impossible," she said. "Commissioning editors need to be bold and imaginative."

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