31 January, 2016

Japanese media and the lack of coverage of African news

by Irina Novikova

International media seem to have little interest in events in Africa. Even such major media corporations as the BBC and the New York Times allocate no more than 9 percent of its international news to news from Africa(*1). But, among media outside Africa, the Japanese media seem to particularly fail in producing extensive reports on the region with only 2-3 percent of its international affairs being devoted to Africa.

The poor accessibility to remote areas of conflict, as well as the safety concerns of journalists certainly play a role. However, it might also be useful to look at the number of overseas bureaus in the region. For example, it appears that the Yomiuri Newspaper – a Japanese newspaper with the largest circulation, has only two news bureaus in Africa – one in Johannesburg, South Africa and one in Cairo, Egypt(*2). However, the bureau in Cairo focuses more on the Middle East than on Africa itself. That means that there are at most only two agencies to cover the whole continent: a continent, which is in fact the second-largest in the world. At the same time, there are nine Yomiuri bureaus in Europe alone. It reveals that there is a certain imbalance in how Japanese media cover different parts of the world. Moreover, it suggests that Japanese media in particular perceive African countries as not worthy of detailed reporting.

Consequently, many potentially significant events in Africa fail to reach the Japanese public. Therefore, it is interesting to analyze the content of the Yomiuri Newspaper articles and see, if African events are covered, what is being covered? The following table shows the total number of characters devoted to African news in the Yomiuri Newspaper over the year 2015 (1 January to 31 December). The list represents the top ten of the most covered countries and the total number of characters devoted to them.

Ten most-reported African countries in the Yomiuri Newspaper, 2015

Nigeria and Kenya received the most attention, with 49 and 24 articles respectively reporting on a complicated security situation in both countries. That is hardly surprising, considering the number and intensity of attacks by Boko Haram, an Islamic militia in Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab, an Al-Qaeda affiliate from Somalia which mainly carries out its attacks in Kenya.

However, a closer look at the content of articles reveals that the coverage of conflict and terrorism in Africa cannot be called extensive or detailed. Out of 49 articles primarily devoted to Nigeria, around 29 are short columns within 200 characters, which simply state the place, perpetrators and number of victims. They do not offer a broader analysis of the situation. Moreover, follow-up stories after initial reports on attacks are rare. For example, only 3 Yomiuri articles with a total of 1,923 characters focused on the deadly Al-Shabaab attack on a Garissa University campus in Kenya, which took the lives of 148 people. This number looks especially insignificant next to 26,467 characters (or 18 articles) written by Yomiuri about the November attacks in Paris just in the first two days. Although these are two different cases, the comparison definitely emphasizes the lack of attention to African affairs.

Overall, six countries in the list are related to conflicts: Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, and Algeria. The focus on a security issue is clearly demonstrated in the following chart of most covered topics in the newspaper. Conflict-related articles make up around 39 percent of the whole coverage. Such attention can be explained by the intensifying insurgency of Islamic militia around the world and its direct consequences in Europe and Japan (e.g. the beheading of two Japanese nationals by the Islamic State in October 2014).

Some other topics that gained substantial coverage were “society” and “politics”. News about presidential elections in Nigeria and Burkina Faso, Obama’s visit to Africa, and visits to Japan by African diplomats, all fall under the category of “politics”. It makes up 14 percent of the total coverage. Articles discussing human rights improvements and other public affairs are categorized as “society” and constitute 17 percent of the news. Although this might suggest that Japanese media show a certain level of interest in African society, in reality 47 percent of such articles (or 16 out of 34) are news related to both, Japan and Africa. They might as well be labeled as Japanese news. For example, one article focuses on how Japanese style-management can improve the working environment in African companies, while other articles focus on a great contribution by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to the development of living standards. In other words, a connection to Japan seems to be a significant factor in whether society-related news would receive attention of Japanese media.

The same can be said about African news in general, as 23 percent of all articles published in 2015 by Yomiuri were written in the context of a connection to Japan or Japanese people or organizations, as can be seen from the following chart:

This brief analysis of a Japanese newspaper reveals a few interesting aspects of how Japanese media deal with Africa. First, within the little coverage devoted to the continent, conflict-related news attracts the most attention. However, “the most attention” should not be confused with “much attention”, as even the worst atrocities by Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab are not nearly as covered as attacks on Western soil and consequently are deprived of a chance to compete for the reader’s empathy. Certainly, given the context of the emergence of IS, the security concern is not specific for Japan and is rather an international issue. At the same time, when it comes to other issues with global impact such as Ebola or the refugee crisis, it seems that unless the issues threaten to cross the Japanese border, the Japanese media will look the other way.

*1 V. Hawkins. NHK and the missing continent (accessed: 21.01.2016)
*2 World bureaus network of the Yomiuri Newspaper (accessed: 21.01.2016)


  1. This is an interesting article for those interested in 'media and politics'. It is hardly surprising why many Japanese seem to know little or almost nothing about African countries /issues. Extensive coverage and ethical reporting of diverse news and events from the continent can enhance better understanding by Japanese about the continent. in this era of globalization, it is vital that people should have knowledge of development and events taking place across the globe, and media can make a different. However, as Irina Novikova noted, western media corporations/News Agencies are known for their lack of attention to African issues, specially those that are not of strategic interest to the western countries. So, Japanese media, and i suppose other media from other Asian countries, seem to follow the path of western media when come to reporting and coverage of African news.

  2. The poor accessibility to remote areas of conflict, as well as the safety concerns of journalists certainly play a role. However, it might also be useful to look at the number of overseas bureaus in the region. For example, it appears that the Yomiuri Newspaper – a Japanese newspaper with the largest circulation national news