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Beyond the First World

CNN’s programming on Africa is engaging & revelatory. Maybe Indian news channels can follow suit.

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Illegally brewed liquor killing and blinding people. A businesswoman breaking an 80-year-old monopoly in what conventional wisdom would consider a man’s field. And a lament about corruption hindering businesses from excelling. Sounds Indian doesn’t it?

It isn’t. It’s Kenyan. CNN featured Kenyan businesswoman, Tabitha Karanja on its programme African Voices. Karanja is the CEO of the first Kenyan-owned beer manufacturer, Keroche Breweries. The show included mostly an interview of her interspersed with shots of her in the manufacturing units with men in white coats.

She sees her products as a cheap, safer alternative to the illegally-brewed and often harmful liquor (which seemed eerily close to what we call “hooch” or “country liquor”) which has disastrous consequences. The programme features her talking about how she has the support of women worried about their husbands’ dangerous drinking habits, and the support of her countrymen for a wholly Kenyan-owned brewery.

Given African issues’ resonance with India, one wonders why we have no news programming on Africa. So far, the continent has been almost missing from Indian TV screens, with probably the only exception being the Oscar Pistorius case.

The African Voices series on CNN, describes itself as highlighting “Africa’s most engaging personalities”. Another story reminiscent of one of our own, is that of the Ethiopian village Bekoji which has produced a string of track-and-field Olympians.

The “Chak De India”-kind of story has coach Sentayehu Eshetu in the lead. He is described as the “go-to man for Ethiopia’s running talent”. It has all the ingredients too – pride, nationalism, overcoming pain and poverty.

The athletes face the same problems like us, expensive training, lack of proper food and some bare-foot runners a la Paan Singh Tomar. However, they manage to win golds, because, as a medal winner says, “silver and bronze are not acceptable in this country”.

The programme does have its drawbacks. Hardly providing a 360-degree view of the people it chooses to feature on it, the two stories mentioned here have no criticisms or alternate views. Most of the programme is devoted to the person in question and, in the case of coach Eshetu, to his successful students. The frame of reference could have been larger.

Yet, these are episodes which provide a holistic picture on Africa. A picture which holds great resemblance to many issues taking place in India. But when it comes to international reporting, Indian cameras always seem to be focussed on the US or UK. We may want to get there, but we’ll have to tread the path of the lesser-developed to get there.

If CNN can do it, why can’t we?

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