The Africa Narrative’s inaugural research set out to conduct a rigorous accounting of what kind of media coverage Africa actually receives and what kinds of stories about Africa and Africans are consumed by Americans. The Norman Lear Center at USC undertook a major content analysis that involved some 700,000 hours of television news and entertainment and 1.2 million tweets over the month of March 2018. These were monitored for mentions of Africa, African, or the names of any of the continent’s 54 nations. Content was analyzed for a range of factors designed to reveal not just the number of Africa mentions but also their content and tone.
AFRICA IN THE MEDIA
Stories about Africa appeared infrequently on U.S. television: a mention appeared once in every five hours of TV programming. Viewers were seven times more likely to see references to Europe. Despite the low frequency of mentions, we know that there were more than 3.6 billion views of these depictions of Africa in the U.S. in March.
Local / National News
Most mentions of Africa (43%) appeared on national or local news, with over 1.5 billion views. Business, technology and economy in Africa accounted for 8% of news coverage while crime accounted for 16%.
Five countries — Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Seychelles and “Congo”5
accounted for almost half (49%) of all mentions of any African nation, although there is variation by type of content:
TOP FIVE IN NEWS: Seychelles (16%), Egypt (9%), Kenya (9%), South Africa (8%) and Congo (7%) accounted for 50% of all mentions of any African nation in local and national news.6
TOP FIVE IN ENTERTAINMENT: South Africa (14%), Kenya (14%), Egypt (10%), Nigeria (10%) and Congo (6%) accounted for 53% of all mentions of any African nation in scripted and unscripted entertainment.7
1 out of 5
Viewers saw one out of five references to Africa in unscripted entertainment, including talk shows, game shows and reality programming. Twenty percent of those mentions were on the game show Jeopardy. Documentaries (17%) and scripted entertainment (15%) account for almost all the rest of Africa depictions.
Local / National News
Several African countries were virtually invisible: Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Cabo Verde, and Sao Tome and Principe were mentioned less than 10 times in almost 700,000 hours of programming.8
Of 32 topics tracked across all programming, only three had more positive than negative mentions: history, music and sports.
In scripted entertainment, we found that 44% of TV shows and movies only mention “Africa,” with no reference to a particular country.
major scripted storylines
Out of almost 700,000 hours of programming, there were only 25 major scripted storylines about Africa, of which 14 centered on crime. Overall, viewers were more than twice as likely to see negative depictions of Africa than positive ones in major storylines about Africa.
Over one-third (35%) of African mentions in scripted entertainment were about crime. Many of these stories were told on America’s most popular shows such as Law & Order: SVU and the NCIS franchise. We have viewership information on 87% of these depictions: 179 million viewers watched 392 references to Africa in scripted TV shows and movies during this period.
Only 13% of entertainment storylines that mentioned Africa included an African character, and 80% of the roles were small. When African characters did appear, 46% spoke 10 words or less.
Only 31% of African characters were women.
6 - As all percentage values are rounded to the nearest whole number, the total may not equal 100%.
7 - See Appendix A for a listing of the top 5 countries in each TV genre.
8 - See Appendix B for a ranking of all 54 African nations by number of TV impressions.