Watching Africa from the inside
New cable channels offer view of diverse continent through Africans’ eyes.
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For more in-depth coverage of the continent's evolving dynamics, you'd have to tune into programs such as Makawa's exclusive sit-down interview with Zimbabwe's embattled prime minister, Robert Mugabe, or "Africa Journal," a weekly news program produced by Reuters out of Nairobi, Kenya. A daily newscast is in the works for 2009. The channel's mandate: avoid sensationalism and provide an African perspective.Skip to next paragraph
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Similarly strict standards govern the channel's entertainment programming, which accounts for about 80 percent of its lineup.
Standing in an editing bay that looks as complex as an air-traffic control desk, the network's general manager, Bob Reid, says the channel rejects programs that reinforce stereotypes about Africa. Shows are also edited to be family-friendly (just as well when it comes to Africa's edition of "Big Brother") and the editors also insert pop-up boxes that explain slang terms and metric conversions. The final part of postproduction is creating a unified look and feel to the shows by adding the channel's logo and design. But the channel doesn't try to Americanize the shows, stresses Mr. Reid, an Emmy Award-winner who once headed up the Discovery Health channel.
That's a surprising statement, given the target audience. Though African-Americans and African immigrants are core viewers, the content is aimed at the sort of person who gravitates toward PBS, "60 Minutes," or the National Geographic channel.
Ironically, The Africa Channel isn't yet available in the very neighborhood where it is headquartered. And though the three-year-old network is available in several major cities, including Atlanta, Washington, and Detroit, it's still in fewer households than the Tennis Channel's 10 million. (The Africa Channel boasts a larger reach – 9 million households – in Britain on the satellite-based British Sky Broadcasting Service.)