Black news

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Resource pack including three videos, plus guides.
Published by International Broadcasting Trust and the BBC. #163;46.99.
Age range: 14-18.

"Often you're going into a village that you've never been to before, to meet people who've never met you, and you are asking them about the death of relatives, about their poverty, about things that to them might challenge their sense of dignity and pride."

Speaking in the last of the three videos in this pack, Mark Harrison, director of Comic Relief, sums up the problems facing the western news reporter in Africa. British television, while generally well-meaning, is more liable to criticism than credit from most specialists in media studies and has to resolve some uncomfortable dilemmas in its dealings with the people of the developing world.

It is easy to accuse news broadcasts of giving a patronising and one-sided view of events, to point to the under-representation of black people in the British media. Some of those criticisms are repeated here, especially in the first of the videos, which deals with ethnic minorities in entertainment, drama and soap opera. For instance, did the BBC do all it could to promote the black comedy show The Real McCoy? And why are there still so few black people in positions of authority? On the other hand, there have been successes: series like Red Dwarf and Chef.

This resource pack was co-produced with the BBC, so one would expect it to celebrate the corporation's achievements and to emphasise the difficulties it faces in getting the balance right. But, for students, it is often a valuable exercise to adopt the programme-makers' point of view, to appreciate the complexity of the problems and realise how frequently they offer no ideal solution. Few of the questions that come up have simple answers. In this sense, the most interesting programme is the second one, in which we follow the correspondent George Alagiah during the making of a report for BBC News. His subject is migration from rural areas into Nairobi; the aim is to show this as a deliberate choice on the part of the individuals who make the move and an important element in sustaining the rural economy, because of the money that the new town-dwellers send home.

Alagiah and his team talk us through each stage: finding people to interview, choosing scenes to illustrate points they are trying to make. Cultural differences, in a country where not everyone is familiar with the idea of TV interviews, complicate the task, and there are the same issues of intrusion that Mark Harrison found when the team visits a slum dwelling where a single room houses 11 people.

There is material here for every level from GCSE onwards, and the pack raises several more general questions about news making, representation and the manipulation of images.

'Race in the Frame' is available from: BBC Education, PO Box 234, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7EU

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