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How the media misrepresents Afghanistan
Thousands of peoples’ lives were forever changed after the disastrous events of the 9/11/2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. But for over a decade, the stigma of Islam and all Muslims has wrongfully grouped innocent people in with the terrorists that caused harm to the U.S. and other countries.

The Media’s Focus on Radicals

This negative perspective of Muslims’ character stems from tragic events like the Charlie Hebdo attack in France and the alarming beheading videos done by the Islamic State group (ISIS). However, Espiritu believes the media coverage of these events focuses on linking the terrorists to Afghanistan which places the country in a negative light.

How the media misrepresents Afghanistan is in drawing broad connections to particular events done by groups of people, organizations, and even a single individual i.e. Osama bin Laden. When these events occur, the stigma against the people of Afghanistan — who are primarily Islamic people — translates to their portrayal in the media as savages, extremists, bigots and/or radicals.

When you limit Afghanistan to just these reductive terms and connotations, it creates a constant theme within the news medium of categorizing Muslims as belligerently harmful people.

Truth vs. Stigma

Although there are good arguments and truth in fearing the Taliban in Afghanistan, how the media misrepresents Afghanistan places any progress against these threats as overlooked. For instance, Peter Bergen stated in the Foreign Policy news article, “the Taliban are removed from power,” while numerous other news sites would focus on the Taliban’s continued threat instead.

Another focus of the media is the “Muslim” restriction of women from having jobs and giving daughters an education; however, there are now more women from Afghanistan aiding in the Afghan parliament than in the U.S. Congress. Also, there’s been progress in child education —  there are now eight million students’ in school, and more than 33 percent are girls.

Afghanistan’s Efforts at Nationwide Improvement

Even though Afghanistan has had a history of human trafficking, the U.S. Department of State from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees addresses that the government of Afghanistan has made improvements to end this practice.

The efforts consist of passing a new law that prohibits any trafficking and smuggling in January 2017. Furthermore, the government has managed to indict and punish criminals of this injustice while also placing trafficking victims in temporary housing in Kabul.

Pushing the socioeconomic progress forward also led the government to establish 15 child protection units (CPUs), creations which stopped 315 boys and three girls from becoming victims of police recruitment. Unfortunately, the government did not meet the requirements, though, in several categories: collusion, victim protection and progression in strategic planning for services provided.

How the Media Misrepresents Afghanistan

The media is supposed to be a direct connection from the government to the general public and vice versa; however, Mirza Mesic, a professor of Islamic History at the Zagreb, states that this medium of communication uses alternatives to basic informative practices such as skewing and then defending such alternative information.

With all the attention and negative input the media has done about Afghanistan, it is easy to say that drama sells stories, but how often is that balanced with the progression the country is making?

– Christopher Shipman

Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Mexico
News often tends to focus on the bad rather than the good. In recent years, almost all of the news reported on Mexico, especially in the U.S., has related to the Mexican Drug War and desperate, impoverished people turning to crime to support themselves. Sadly, this is how the media misrepresents Mexico and has made many of us forget what a great country Mexico truly is along with the many great things it offers.

Travel Warnings

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of State issued “do not travel” advisories for the Mexican states of Colima, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas and Guerrero. The warning is comparable to travel advisories for Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. As of March, nearing spring break, a popular time for travel to Mexico, warnings have spread into locations that were once considered safe and popular resort areas. A security alert warned Americans not to travel to Playa del Carmen which is a popular destination in itself and surrounded by other resort locations such as Cancun and Tulum.

It is true that Mexico is currently struggling with many issues including a drug war, and that some locations in Mexico are dangerous, but the fixation on only these areas is exactly how the media misrepresents Mexico and this situation, the focus often portraying Mexico as much worse off than it is.

As a whole, the U.S. classifies travel to Mexico with the same rank of danger as travel to Germany. It is only specific locations, as mentioned above, that rank higher. That being said, the vast majority of Mexicans are not criminals or dangerous to tourists. They are actually very welcoming and inclusive of visitors. Mexicans honor friendships and family and strive to include those interested in their culture.

A Thriving Mexico

Speaking of culture, it is currently thriving in Mexico, especially at its heart, Mexico City. Although it was once more dangerous, Mexico City has become as safe as any other large urban area, and it’s working on being even safer, including the introduction of train cars specifically for women and children to better prevent sexual harassment.

Mexico City offers a wide variety of restaurants and street vendors serving everything from traditional Mexican cuisine to creative modern dishes, or a combination of the two, making it a foodie paradise.   Art is another growing scene in the city, with independent art galleries and shops showing up in droves. The reason for this cultural and creative boom can most likely be attributed to the steady growth of Mexico’s economy.

Beyond the bustle of city life, Mexicans also care dearly for their county’s beautiful landscapes and environment. Many government policies regarding the environment have been enacted in recent years, including the creation of conservation zones which protect against logging. These protected areas include the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve which consists of approximately 140 thousand acres of butterfly habitat. Thanks to Mexico’s protection, the once diminishing population of Monarchs is now flourishing.

Although Mexico faces many issues regarding crime and drugs, a fixation of reports and stories regarding it is often how the media misrepresents Mexico.  The news on Mexico does not represent its country and people. There are still many wonderful, safe locations in the country with welcoming locals eager to show the real Mexico to visitors. Even with the many struggles it faces, Mexico continues to grow and improve as a nation both economically and culturally. Its people, including the government, work hard to preserve as well as advance these successes.

– Keegan Struble
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Africa
From U.S. leaders speaking about African countries that do not exist, to people thinking Africa is a single country, misconceptions about the continent and its circumstances are far too common and dangerous to people in need. This past year illustrated this point clearly: most in the public eye do not know what is actually going on there, and when they do, they fail to describe it correctly.

But as the financial conditions in Africa change, so should the concepts and terms used to describe it. Clearing this air is fundamental for the comprehension and, possibly, alleviation of poverty in Africa.

There is no single story, country, color or solution to poverty in Africa.

Africa is not homogeneous; this misconception largely comes from gross oversimplifications by colonists or other invaders (past and present). The inability to accurately describe the large region’s complexities coupled with a historic, persistent desire to control the various narratives there is where wrongful assumptions are made. Thinking it is one country inhabited by people who all look the same or that all African populations are the descendants of slaves is extremely problematic when it comes to helping those in need.

The Sahara Desert makes up a third of the continent, but its exotic wildlife and rare tribes have become more of an icon for the entire landmass’s culture than the other 66 percent of the actual continent. The same can be said of Africa’s immense rainforest, which covers even less of the continent.

The islands on the coast vary by the hundreds: Comoros and Réunion in the east, Ascension and St. Helena south of those, Cape Verde in the southwest and the Canary Islands in the northwest, to name a few. All of these are domains of Africa and their economic diversity goes unrecognized in relation to the continent’s popularized image.

Each country faces different problems brought on by varying systemic, societal and historical issues. Assuming there is a single plan that can “fix” all of Africa is not just naive but severely condescending.

Africa is not poor, just severely exploited (still).

Seychelles, an African archipelago of 115 islands that boasts only 1 percent unemployment, was ranked as the richest nation in Africa last year. A growing population of wealthy people are living and moving to places like Mauritius, an island just east of Madagascar. Africa’s islands are home to many of the world’s wealthiest people, not just Africa’s. On the mainland, South Africa, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Egypt are among the richest countries on the continent.

Some of the poverty in Africa is not by accident, but by design. An estimated $203 billion leaves the continent each year and around $41 billion was made off of sub-Saharan Africa alone last year. The sheer inequality is startling because the amount loaned to African countries ($162 billion) is less than the amount leaving, but nothing is being repaid.

According to a recent report, some of it is attributed to “trade misinvoicing”, where African nations receive an influx of foreign aid but subsequently lose three times that amount from “multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax.” This means that many resource-rich African countries receiving aid are being manipulated by corporations, disenfranchising populations for denationalized profits.

This continues a history of economic exploitation that African countries have endured for centuries.

Not all tribes in Africa are poor. Or small. Or even “tribes”.

The common conception of African tribes is of black and brown people living in straw huts, hunting for food and thriving off the land. Even though Africa is home to around 3,000 tribes, many encompass populations of countries by the millions and do not live like that at all.

In Nigeria, 20 to 35 percent (approximately 45 million people) of the population identifies with the Yoruba tribe; many have white-collar jobs and live in a city. Many other tribes such as the Pedi, Igbo, Suri, Fulani and especially the Zulu, have become prominent in both size and wealth too, living in cities as taxpaying, working citizens. This raises the question: what is a tribe?

This notable misconception concerns the terminology itself. The term “tribe” insinuates a community of indigenous people, which they are, but it also comes with more negative connotations than the term “ethnic group” which, by definition, is what such populations can also be called. The name “language groups” applies even more because many speakers of various “tribal” languages are only that, speakers of a language, not “members” of a “tribe”.

For example, while it is common to speak about the displacement of various ethnic groups, the displacement of tribes in Africa is lesser known or communicated internationally. The term “ethnic group” tends to conjure empathy, while “tribe” tends to establish a sense of otherness. The ethnic diversity of such a well-populated continent needs a strikingly more complex lexicon to even begin to accurately depict populations that are far from the definition of “tribes”.

Breaking down such misconceptions helps diversify aid by simply being more culturally sensitive and aware. Addressing ineffective communication about poverty in Africa starts with using more accurate and inclusive language. Using precise vocabulary to paint a clear, distinct picture of the complex problems is how more successful solutions are established.

– Toni Paz

Photo: Flickr

media misrepresents North KoreaUnder the solitary darkness of closed curtains, two North Korean students prepare to watch a movie smuggled into the country from the Chinese black market. Before watching, the two must ensure that no one can see them from the street. If spotted, it will mean certain punishment for them and their families. The two watch in complete solitude as the truth about the outside world unveils itself.

The media misrepresents North Korea by portraying its citizens as unaware of the truth about the world. A 2017 article titled “A Journey into the Heart of North Korea” by Will Ripley and Marc Lourdes of CNN described North Koreans thusly: “The truth is, all these children know is government propaganda teaching fierce hatred of the U.S., and loyalty to the Kim family. Statues and photos of the Kims are everywhere. They’re under constant state media”.

While this statement is correct, the media often ignores the other side of the story. Illegal media is being smuggled into North Korea every day via the Chinese black market, and it is changing the thoughts, hearts and lives of North Koreans.

Kim Jong Un keeps a tight control on the truth, and North Koreans take dangerous steps to learn it every day. From illegal media to growing cell phone use, the North Korean people’s search for truth grows stronger every day, but so do the consequences. This is how the media misrepresents North Korea.

Smuggled Media

Contraband movies, TV shows and music are smuggled through the Chinese-North Korean border on USB drives every day. These forms of media give North Koreans second thoughts about the lies they were told in school. Because of this, many North Koreans know the truth about the outside world, and because of this information, some brave souls choose to defect.

“What North Korea really fears is their people becoming aware of their oppression,” said Kang Cho-hwan, founder of the North Korean Strategy Center.

The threat illegal media poses to the government is one of supreme danger: awareness. One North Korean defector, Yeon-mi Park, described her thoughts when watching American films for the first time, “I never heard my father tell my mother, ‘I love you’. But in the movies, a man tells a woman, ‘I love you’. And those things were never allowed to be expressed to each other, other than to the dear leader. So of course, this information helped me understand the outside world. I realized there was some humanity out there.”

Smuggled Cell Phones

Chinese cell phones being brought into North Korea are connecting families that have been separated for almost 70 years.

North Koreans are using smuggled cellphones to reach family members in South Korea for the first time in decades, even if they can only talk for ten minutes. The risk is extreme; cell phone connections can be traced by the North Korean government, but some North Koreans are willing to take the risk if it means minutes of connections with loved ones.

Ms. Ju, a North Korean citizen, describes calling her father in South Korea. “We barely spoke for ten minutes before the connection was suddenly lost. My father lost sleep that night, fearing that I might have been caught by North Korean soldiers.”

Smuggled Books

Banned books have been playing a role in enlightening the North Korean people. Along with USB drives filled with outside media, one can also find books that have been translated into Korean on the black market.

Je Son Lee, another North Korean defector, describes reading a black market book. “Back in North Korea, I once read a fantasy novel called ‘Lucy’s Closet’ and it was a story about a girl named Lucy entering a whole new different world through her closet. Before ‘Lucy’s Closet,’ I had never read anything about an imaginary world. Once I began reading it, I couldn’t stop reading until the very end of the story. I kept turning pages under a lit candle and I pulled an all-nighter just so I could finish reading Lucy’s Closet.”

Je Son Lee guessed that the book was actually “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.

These black-market books, like the smuggled Hollywood movies, provide a different view of the outside world, contrary to what the North Korean government tells its citizens.

These cases are just a few examples of how the media misrepresents North Korea. With outside information continuing to pour into North Korea, one cannot help but think the future of the “hermit kingdom” might be bright. Perhaps instead of a war or nuclear disaster, North Korea will free itself with the truth.

– Tristan Gaebler

Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Kenya
It is not difficult to see how the media misrepresents Kenya: inescapable disease and poverty, political unrest and a desert as barren as the hopes of a nation. Stereotypes about Kenya run as rampant as the conjured images of one of its zebras fleeing from a predator. Yet, Kenya, like the zebra, is not as monochrome as at first glance. Beneath its markings, lies a living, breathing soul, capable of outrunning these dangerous expectations.

Perpetuation of the Media

For years, the media has helped to perpetuate an outside world’s ignorance, not only through its portrayal of life in Kenya, but also through its failure to fully recognize the progress made there.

Kenya has several reasons to be optimistic, including:

  • promising governmental policies and programs
  • a growing economy
  • a growing technology sector, and
  • reliability on renewable resources

From a financial standpoint, it’s easy to see how the media misrepresents Kenya. Kenya looks like a country in debt, but it’s a debt akin to calorie intake while working out. Enough calories need to be consumed, in order to be burned.

As Karen Kandie puts it in her article “Kenya’s Debt Sustainability, Positive Outlook” — “rather than focus on the total value of Kenya’s public debt, focus is best placed on what and how the debt has been utilized. Debt to fund infrastructure is a good debt.”

Citizen Well-Being

With that in mind, and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term underway, plans for the country’s future sustainability start with funding the well-being of its citizens. Kenyatta’s aggressive optimism about the prospect of universal health care highlights an ambitious timetable for the nation’s leader.

In an article entitled “President Kenyatta, governors lay ground for universal healthcare,” the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) delineates the rest of Kenyatta’s plan: “building 500,000 new homes, providing food security and nutrition, and significantly increasing the contribution of manufacturing.”

Couple these points of emphasis with long-term plans of water and forest conservation, and Kenya sets the pace for many African countries.

Optimism Abounds

Not all of Kenya’s success, however, lies in its future. In a nation with a growing tourism industry and trending technology ventures in Nairobi, optimism abounds even now. In fact, various financial experts foresee Kenya tallying a nearly six percent economic rise in 2018. That number doesn’t just exceed growth for most African countries, but for that of Western societies as well.

Kenya, though, doesn’t need to compare itself to Western society. The nation has its own identity, with a people as unique and resourceful as the landscape. In fact, according to Zoe Kendell, in an article focused on how the media misrepresents Kenya and much of Africa, the reality is much different than what people think.

While some Western societies use as little as ten percent of available renewable resources, Kenya continues to set itself up for future success, relying on hydroelectric power for more than half of its energy.

A Nation with Independent Spirit

With this kind of independent spirit, Kenya strives to become more than the expectations set for it. Sure, there are needs, but Kenyans are a proud people, working toward unity amid tribalism. With a president now in his second term, it looks as if that unity has formed a common goal.

The distendedbellies and pleading eyes of the television screen only tell the beginning of the story; what happens in this nation’s next chapter might be the plot twist that nobody expected.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr