Gloria Aradi is an internationally acclaimed Kenyan journalist. In 2020, she became a finalist in the prestigious Fetisov Journalism Awards in the category: “Contribution to Civil Rights”. She also won a MERCK Recognition Award in 2019 for her work in journalism.
The problems surrounding Western media coverage of international issues are widely known. When the New York Times sent out an advertisement for the role of head of its Nairobi bureau, for example, it read that the job would offer a “tremendous opportunity to dive into news and enterprise across a wide range of countries, from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania”, to which Kenyans online responded with outrage. The issue of romanticising, infantilising, and simply outright ignoring the complexity of African problems continues to be rife in Western reporting.
I sat down, via Zoom, with Gloria Aradi to ask her to speak on her own career, and to listen to her views on international journalism coverage, and how it needs to be improved.
What are the topics and issues that matter most to you as a journalist, and why did you come to choose that as your career?
“It’s a bit different here in Kenya because, as a third world country, we have many problems: health issues, human rights, social justice. So, over the course of my career, I found myself doing more and more of those stories, and that’s how I naturally navigated to these areas. Those are the issues that are most important to me, because in Kenya almost everyone is affected by those issues.”
You were nominated for a Fetisov Journalism Award, for a series of articles relating to civil rights, can you talk a little bit about the message of those pieces?
“In Kenya, our healthcare system is very poorly developed, so most people can’t go to public hospitals because the public hospitals are poorly equipped, they have few doctors, so most people have to go to private hospitals, and these hospitals charge very expensive rates that most people are not able to afford. When that happens, the hospitals decide to detain the bodies of patients who have passed away.
“The first story I did was about a woman whose mother had died at a public hospital, and she was unable to clear the bill, it was around $40,000, so the hospital detained the body of her mother for two years. The second article was about two families with preterm babies, because they were born preterm they had many complications and needed to stay in hospital for several weeks. The parents were unable to pay for the treatment, and so the hospital detained these babies. The final article was about a boy who was suffering from cancer, and he died in a hospital in Kenya and that hospital also detained his body because the parents were unable to clear the bill.”
Kenyan hospitals detaining both patients and bodies until bills have been settled has been an ongoing problem for decades. There’s constant discussion in the U.K. surrounding selectivity in the media, and the biases in the narratives that are pushed.
In what ways can the media ensure they are providing well-rounded, representative world-views through their news coverage?
“In my opinion, I would say the biggest problem is that Western media covers African stories from their perspective, mostly because they use their own reporters. I think that Western media should employ reporters from Africa, African reporters who understand their issues, who understand their countries. This way, the reporters are able to provide an accurate view of what’s happening. Foreigners can’t really understand the exact picture of what’s happening, so I think it’s only right to use journalists who are from these regions.”