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BBC Africa In Trouble Over Controversial Report

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UPDATE Friday September 4: British media house BBC changed its headline and issued an apology to its readers following a public outcry over its earlier controversial headline.

The new headline reads Coronavirus in South Africa: Scientists explore surprise theory for low death rate.

“The headline and article have been updated to better reflect what the scientists said. It was not our intention to cause offence.” wrote BBC in their tweet.

British giant BBC on Thursday September 3 became the latest western based media house to land in hot soup with Kenyans and the African continent as a whole over a controversial report labelling Africa as a ‘mystery to the North’.

The report was headlined Coronavirus in Africa: Could poverty explain mystery of low death rate and has drawn wrath from Africans all over, accusing the media house of being the ‘prophets of doom’.


In an attempt to justify the low COVID-19 fatality rates in the continent, BBC picked on South Africa, the hardest hit country by the virus and zeroed in on the Soweto slums, like any western media house would when handling an African story.

Kenya’s COVID-19 update as of September 3, 2020. Source: File

“But in recent days, scientists at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Analytics unit, at Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, have been wondering if the missing factor – the answer to what they see as the continent’s pandemic mystery – might lie inside a glorified chest freezer in their laboratory, on the outskirts of Johannesburg.” read the article in part.

The article by BBC Correspondent Andrew Harding depicted the experts’ warning that “a vast and poorly connected continent may simply be biding its time, and that the virus could strike hard in the coming months.”

Harding then came up with a theory detailing how the poor people of Africa developed an immunity owing to vaccination carried out in epidemics of past.

“But the South African scientists wondered whether, because those viruses spread more effectively in overcrowded neighbourhoods, poorer communities might have been more widely exposed and therefore, enjoy a larger degree of immunity towards COVID-19.” wrote Harding.

It was this theory that triggered a full blown social media assault on BBC, with social media users all over airing out their views.

Reactions from BBC Africa’s controversial report. Source: File

“There are poor people everywhere even in seemingly developed countries but they are dying by the thousands there. I mean we need better journalists to cover Africa and it would be better if they are not white.” wrote Wamathai, a content creator.

“Africa’s entrenched poverty might “for once” work in the continent’s favour”. I’ve read the article, Scientists, Virologists now doing guesswork that’s making headlines? Tone deaf doesn’t begin to describe this story. Shame.” wrote former Citizen TV news anchor Terryanne Chebet.

Norman Jonas, a medical practitioner in Africa delivered the knockout blow by sharing several screenshots of BBC headlines and it was hard to ignore the common theme expressed in the titles.

“Strange how BBC covers African stories. Very Strange. They always pray for the worst,” he quipped.

“I left BBC Africa over a year ago. And I never worked on the website though I’ve written for them. They’re fine journalists but this framing is problematic.” revealed former NTV anchor Larry Madowo when asked by one of the users to talk to the hierarchy in charge of the media house.

Even before the pandemic hit African shores, scores of international media houses predicted a complete disaster in the continent, outlining its inferior medical facilities. They hypothesized that the deaths within the continent would be beyond imaginable.

The continent as of Thursday September 2 has recorded 1,260,351 COVID-19 cases, 999,154 recoveries and 30,071 deaths.

BBC is not the first media house to come under fire over headlines diminishing the African continent and the manner at which they cover their stories in Africa.

A quick look at the COVID-19 situation in the low-income neighbourhoods in America shows a stark contrast as these areas have recorded the highest number of deaths.

“Earlier, the city released data that showed stark racial disparities in deaths from the coronavirus, with black and Latino residents dying at roughly twice the rate of white people” reads a report regarding the pandemic in New York, published on Politico.

A senior CNN executive in 2015 was forced to apologise for coverage calling Kenya a “hotbed of terror” ahead of Former US President Barack Obama’s visit in July.

Many Kenyans were outraged by the report, which suggested Obama was likely to be attacked during his historic visit to the land of his father’s birth.

The hashtag #someonetellcnn trended for several days ahead of the US president’s arrival, with users deploying a mix of humour and satire to criticise the American network.

The #SomeoneTellCNN hashtag that trended across social media following CNN’s headline deeming Kenya as a ‘terror hotbed’

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