Journalism Across Cultures by Levi Obijiofor and Folker Hanusch

IN a world where power relation narratives tend to suggest that significant events that shape progress happen mainly in the West, it is sometimes difficult to situate the trajectory of ideas in other parts of the world. Histories of science, ideas and the arts tend to be skewed to create the impression that knowledge and know-how cascade down the hills of Anglo-American and European minds, to the plains of countries in the global south.Journalism Across Cultures - Obijiofor

This dominant, albeit implied supposition is not helped by the fact that original thoughts, even when they come from citizens of the global south, emanate from Western structures; the universities, the think-tanks and so on. The result of this is that the global firmament of ideas, concepts, and even professions, tend to be seen as offshoots of Western traditions, and as such, a continuation of those traditions.

The global media is one arena where hegemony is perpetuated. Journalism provides a platform for exchange across the globe, but the question of who comes out better at the end of the exchange of ideas is something of interest to many scholars. There are those who argue that enough has not been done to document the roles, similarities and peculiarities of journalistic cultures that are non-western.

In Journalism Across Cultures: An Introduction, Levi Obijiofor and Folker Hanusch attempt to provide a holistic and global basis for understanding journalism, not just of the western strand, but those of marginalised peoples of non-western extraction. The mission of the authors is thus clear right from the start of the book: to establish the notion that central journalistic message and the methodology for delivering it is determined by the cultural milieu in which such journalism is found.

The position is also advanced that the pen profession, apart from tilting substantially in favour of the west, and catering for its concerns, has not been inclusive enough to reflect aspirations of the peoples in non-western cultures.

Right from the introduction of the book, the view is canvassed that “although we live in a globalized world, research evidence suggests that news agendas are dominated by domestic news events, a focus on popular personalities, soft news and entertainment-driven content, concentration on regional news or ‘Eurocentrism’, as well as a diminished attention to international news in general…”

The authors contend that journalism in parts of the world other than the west has inhaled the influences of the cultures within which it plays its roles. They are very enthusiastic about stretching what has been a traditional debate revolving around, and utilising Western journalism as the sole laboratory of analysis of what is effectively a global phenomenon. They, thus, contend that journalism as an art that captures the very events that shape the lives of societies could be understood from a global perspective, wherein the inputs of the various cultural movements could be discerned.

Journalism Across Cultures: An Introduction benefits immensely from a rigorous distillation of the foundational theories upon which the study of journalism has stood over the years. Although these theories mainly emanate from western sources, the writers did not run away from analysing them, especially as these theories provide a universally acceptable logic in explaining the nature and character of journalism, even though non-western cultures were not borne in mind when the theoretical explanations were made.

Some of these theories that are given close scrutiny in the work are the Four Theories of the Press, which is designated as an “old map for a changing world.” Here, the authors correctly pinpoint the cold war firmament that served as the background for the formulation of the theories of the press.

The authors say: “Essentially the book reflected the ideological differences that separated capitalism from the Soviet communist system (Soviet communism).” The theories are the authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility and Soviet communist press theories.

Chapter Three of the book, which dwells on journalistic practices and role perception details significance of research on journalism practices with specific focus on the journalists’ “role perception,”, which implies the pen man’s self-knowledge about his place and mission in society. Here, too, the authors beam the searchlight on the question of journalistic decision-making.

After a thorough synthesis of the literature on the roles and factors that influence gatekeepers in a media organisation, one very crucial conclusion that was reached in the book is that the roles of gatekeepers are “changing rapidly because of the impact of new technologies and the impact of participatory journalism around the world (p. 43).

The writers then go on to interrogate the realities of the existence of such a term or concept as “global journalism.” They go on to note that while there are similarities in journalistic exertions across the globe, “at the same time important differences persist.” But back to the issue of the journalist’s professional role, the reader gets to encounter such roles as the interpretative/investigative, disseminator, adversarial and populist mobiliser.

The authors expound on these concepts thus: “In the interpretative function to which most journalists subscribe, three roles are important: the investigation of government claims, analysis and interpretation of complex problems and the discussion of public policies in a timely way… In the adversarial function, journalists are constantly skeptical of public officials as well as business interests, while populist mobilisers considered it important to develop interests in the public, provide entertainment, set the political agenda and let the ordinary people express their views.”

The above, according to the authors, were some of the conclusions distilled from a study of journalists in the United States. The chapter then goes on to provide insights into the mindset of journalists in non-western countries with regard to their role perception.

In Chapter Four, the authors take a detailed look at journalism education around the world, with the explanation that recent trends show a movement towards university education as the foundational basis for journalists in many countries in the west. But a point was made about variations in the mode of journalism education, depending on the countries in question. In the case of Africa, the authors pointed out that “education specific to journalism arrived only after the Second World War and the resultant processes of decolonization.”

The passage continued on the history of journalism education in Africa: “… it was the US model of journalism education that a majority of countries adopted. The American University of Cairo had imported it in 1935, and the first journalism programme was established in Ghana in 1958, with Nigeria following suit in the early 1960s. Both programmes were established with considerable aid from the United States.”

It is reported that Nigeria’s first, albeit ceremonial President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was earlier editor of The West African Pilot felt that the British model of university was too academic and the American vocational orientation suited Africa’s needs better. “The model, supported with the help of UNESCO, quickly spread around the region, so that by 1970, Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Zaire (now Congo) had established journalism programmes in universities…”

While the fifth chapter of the book addresses the question of gender in journalism, the ninth and final chapter focus on the impact of new technologies on journalism, with an exploration of how technological convergence has affected the pen profession. Of particular interest is the place and role of the citizen journalist in the news gathering and dissemination processes. The authors conclude that “new technologies have transformed journalistic practices in many ways. However, the new technologies do not have homogenous impact on newsrooms across cultures. This is because in different cultures, ordinary citizens and professional journalists use new technologies to produce media content in different ways.”

On the whole, Journalism Across Cultures: An Introduction is a meticulously researched academic material that attempts to find a balance in the debate about the concept of global journalism. What were hitherto missing in the vast array of literature on journalism were the perspectives, patterns, and peculiarities of journalism practice in places outside the west. That gap seems to have been filled by this attempt to look beyond the similarities in cultural orientations about the art of journalism, to the striking differences, which persist.


Book Review

Title: Journalism Across Cultures: An Introduction, by Levi Obijiofor and Folker Hanusch

Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan, Bassingstoke, UK., 2011.

Reviewed by: Armsfree Ajanaku Onomo, The Guardian, Friday, 30 March 2012

How cultural diversity shapes journalism




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