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Is Old Media Holding New Media Hostage?

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Honored by Time Magazine in 2006, bloggers are the vanguard of the "Persons of the Year" who have revolutionized newsgathering and editorial content on the Internet. No longer just the "new media," these writers have unleashed a powerful source of information and analysis, which will change journalism forever. With this power comes responsibility, and as an "old" journalist I am troubled to see so many of the blogs literally crammed with commentary on the latest news cycles from the mainstream press. It is as if traditional press and media outlets have the freelancers in a collective stranglehold that forces sputtering response, argument, and regurgitation on a current cycle such as Iraq (read Bush), while the rest of the world, especially Africa, drowns in the spittle.

Of course it is important to be an alternative voice to the foreign policy of the Bush administration, and bloggers deserve a tremendous amount of credit for shining light into the dark recesses of American foreign policy in Iraq. But why continue on this repetitive track when a majority of the American people are finally aware of the travesty and in communication with their elected representatives? Does not the job of the journalist go beyond editorial comment, with a grave responsibility that demands that he/she "tell the story?"

There is a terribly under-reported story in Africa, which the powers of the internet have made available to those willing to look, read and analyze. No press release should be taken at face value, but in the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the work of MONUC should not be overlooked, as it provides a window into what is happening in one of the most inaccessible part of the planet.

MONUC is the peacekeeping arm of the United Nations in the DRC. The United Nations Security Council established MONUC to protect civilians and enhance security in war-torn areas. MONUC also offers credentialing and protection to journalists operating in these areas.

Most freelancers do not have the money or expertise to travel in to these areas. Of course the American mainstream press does, but they are not a regular presence unless a celebrity makes a brief appearance, feeding the celebrity news cycle of the week.

Here is a statistic that should give everyone pause for some deep reflection, taken directly from the MONUC website, which is available to anyone who wants to take a look and start formulating thoughtful opinions.

"According to the International Rescue Committee: 'In Iraq ...the 2003 aid budget was $3.5 billion or $138 per person. ... In spite of DR Congo's rank as the deadliest recorded conflict since World War II, the world's humanitarian response in 2004 was a total of $188 million in aid or a scant $3.23 per person.'"

DRC is encompasses an area about the size of the eastern half of the United States. Its population is 52.7 million of the poorest of the world's poor. If you are Congolese, you will be lucky to live to the ripe old age of 43, and only 4 percent live above the age of sixty. The average income is $460 US, but with no middle class, it does not take much to do the math and realize the majority make far less than that amount.

Consider these three news items that are easily found on the MONUC webpage but have merited no coverage here in the United States. Imagine the response if the dateline were changed to Iraq....

"KINSHASA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Congolese soldiers protesting over unpaid bonuses fired guns and grenades, looted shops and homes and raped the adopted daughter of a foreign aid worker in a nightlong rampage in the east, officials said on Friday....

"Jan 11, 2007 (International Federation of Journalists/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the retaliatory dismissal of 15 journalists and other employees at private television channel Global Television (Global TV) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who were barred from their offices by management at the end of December after they asked for back pay."

And finally:

"KINSHASA, Jan 11, 2007 (AFP) - Almost one and a half million people remain displaced from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than three years after the last war, the UN refugee agency announced Thursday.

A million people are internally displaced, while 410,000 are refugees across the borders of the vast central African nation, the Kinshasa office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement...."

Of course there is a danger in accepting un-vetted press releases as the "story" without ground-truthing. However, most bloggers have not been to Iraq, either, and there is no reason why humanitarian concerns, US influence, or lack-thereof cannot be examined, studied, and challenged in a thoughtful manner in Africa.

The MONUC website is a primer for a crash-course on the DRC and an opportunity to swim free from the current news cycles, open our collective eyes, and take a breath of new air.

 

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http://www.georgianne-nienaber.com

Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)
 

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