’60 Minutes’ Under Fire for Its Africa Coverage: Worst Habits of US Journalism

Letter from 200 Writers and academics slams the CBS broadcast for reports that “render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible”

Last Updated: March 27, 2015 @ 8:45 AM

Two hundred writers and academics wrote an open letter Thursday to “60 Minutes” executive producer Jeff Fager for reporting on Africa by CBS’s weekly newsmagazine they deem misrepresentative and damaging to the continent.

Authored by Columbia University journalism school professor Howard French, the letter opens by saying several recent segments served to “render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.”

The “60 Minutes” reports that signees are critical of featured white people whose lives’ work involve saving African wildlife.

“People of black African descent make no substantial appearance in either of these reports, and no sense whatsoever is given of the countries visited, South Africa and Gabon,” the letter says.

Another segment by correspondent Lara Logan was the subject of scorn in the letter. Logan traveled to Liberia to cover the Ebola epidemic, but according to the letter, Africans were reduced to the role of “silent victims.”

The signees criticized the fact that Logan’s segment showed Africans talking within distance of her — even ones discussed in her reporting — but never quoted one on-air for the segment.

“Liberians not only died from Ebola, but many of them contributed bravely to the fight against the disease,” the letter wrote, criticizing the broadcast for only airing voices of white foreigners who came to help fight the virus.

Overall, the letter said the lack of focus on Africans represented the worst of journalism: “Taken together, this anachronistic style of coverage reproduces, in condensed form, many of the worst habits of modern American journalism on the subject of Africa.”

The signees suggested Africa only gets coverage when there’s a disaster underway and “westerners can be elevated to the role of central characters.”

“60 Minutes is proud of its coverage of Africa and has received considerable recognition for it,” a CBS spokesperson told TheWrap. “We have reached out to Mr. French to invite him to discuss this further and we look forward to meeting with him.”

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