Mercy Abang – "The media is biased"
Exposing the Invisible talks to journalist Mercy Abang about collaboration as the key to impactful crossborder journalism, about addressing historical bias and access flaws in the media and what it takes to unbias the news as we move forward. This interview was conducted in June 2022.
About the Interviewee
Mercy Abang is the co-Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer at Hostwriters Network, publisher of Unbias The News, a global newsroom creating space for journalists facing structural barriers in the field. She also edits and, along with her co-managing Director, oversees operations at Unbias The News.Mercy started her career as a political correspondent on Television in Abuja, Nigeria and moved on to developmental reporting and reporting the activities of world leaders at the United Nations in New York. Previously, Mercy has worked as a freelance producer and reporter with Al Jazeera Media Network and, over the years, she has transitioned into a Media Entrepreneur. Mercy studied Journalism and has a post-graduate degree in advertising and public relations, and an MBA in entrepreneurship from Berlin, Germany. Mercy has founded a media company in Nigeria and invests in startups in Africa and across the globe.
Exposing the Invisible in conversation with Mercy Abang, CEO of Hostwriter and Unbias the News.
(Note: the transcript includes minor edits for clarity reasons.)
- Exposing the Invisible (ETI): Why is collaboration important in journalism?
Mercy Abang (MA):
Maybe I should just start by saying that you go farther, when you have someone whose hand you can hold. And that's being very simplistic with that term. Like in life, if you want to work, and you're alone, doing it alone, it's more difficult. And when you collaborate, there are chances that you're going to see parts of the work, what parts of the component of what you're researching on, that the other party gets to see for you. That's one. Secondly, when it comes to collaboration, and cross border collaboration, it's even much more. So for instance, say you're writing a story that concerns two or three countries, with collaboration, you do not even have to buy a ticket and fly to that country. All you need to do is to be able to reach out to the next party and say: this is the layer I think we should add in our story, why don't you interview A-B-C-D persons, and we add it to the body of work, right? So with that, you're able to achieve your goal without necessarily adding to the logistics that it takes.
- ETI: What is Hostwriter?
Hostwriter is a network of over 6000 journalists at the moment, in 110 countries. And we enhance collaboration with journalists. It is a network where there is ease with which you reach out to journalists anywhere that the journalist is that is signed up to the platform, and you want to be able to collaborate with them, you want to be able to work with them.
Info Slide: Hostwriter runs “Unbias the News” – a feminist crossborder newsroom based in Berlin, Germany”
- ETI: What makes “Unbias the News” different from other media outlets?
So what makes “Unbias the News” different is the fact that “Unbias the News” pays you equally. What makes “Unbias the News” different is the fact that we don't care if you live in Washington DC, or you live in Manhattan, or you're writing from Karachi. You are treated the same way. A reporter is a reporter, a journalist is a journalist. Let's not say fixer, stringer, all the barriers that we've created, you know, in what we call mainstream media, to be able to create a barrier. Where we say you are that way, this is you, you're that way – I am up here, you know. And “Unbias the News” is not there for that. And parachute journalism as well. You know, you have the ease of passage to fly into any country and do your journalism, you know, and without necessarily taking into cognizance the fact that there are locals that are journalists that perhaps probably have an insight into the story much better. We're not saying you shouldn't keep flying. But when you go into these communities, for us, the local journalists at the frontlines should be on the frontlines of the story.
So the media for us, it's an opportunity for us to look at what we're doing wrong in the media, and addressing our bias, we understand that everybody, we all have our biases, you have your bias, I have mine, based on our culture, and our social interactions in life. But we have to own up to these biases and look at it. Because when we own up to our biases, it enables us to be able to do our work and, and tell our stories and do our reportage.
- ETI: Or What is your most recent project at “Unbias the News”?
We just started a project we call the “Sinking Cities Project”, which is also addressing climate change across the world. And we're working with journalists from the local communities in cities that have been projected to sink in a few years. We've picked up states like Lagos in Nigeria, Alexandria in Egypt, Karachi in Pakistan, even Dublin. And most of these cities are, you know, on the spotlight, and we're seeing what's going on with with floods and erosions across the cities. And we thought, wait a minute, why don't we put all these journalists together and perform this investigation and look at the missing link and how it connects with their countries together? And, you know, we have it out there for policymakers and the public and perhaps persons in the communities to be able to add pressure to their state actors and state governments to influence climate related policy change.
- ETI: Can you talk about the three major structural biases within the media that “Unbias the News” seeks to address?
- Colonial agenda:
When the pre-colonial masters took over countries or took over colonies, they went in with an agenda and said, oh, these are our colonies, this is how we're going to treat them. And when they moved in with an agenda, they also had their own state media. And the media was reporting based on their agenda. Guess what, over 100 years after the colonial masters, this agenda is still there. That is why certain countries are reported in certain ways. If I ask you about what you know about Lagos, you probably just think, oh, maybe Boko Haram. And that's in the top three things you know about my country. And that's perhaps because of what the news media has done to you. The news media has created bias in certain ways where we look at people and we address them based on what the media has informed us of who they are. I'm a black person, if I walk into a room, you probably don't think of me: well perhaps she has an MBA. No, you don't think about that. The media has erased a lot of communities and the media has contributed greatly to how the world see other people and other persons that look in certain ways.
- Gender bias:
Secondly, the media is biased also, because they think only men should be in front of the camera. And women shouldn't be there. When, when you look at analysts, let's even look at the Ukrainian war. At the centre of the conflict, women and children are perhaps also the most endangered. Or you turn on your television, who do you see analysing the war? So when we think of people to bring on air, the first person you think of is a man. And it happens over and over and over again. If you look at the percentage, in the West it is perhaps just 20% of women that have been put on air. In other parts of the world, the percentage is even lower than that. So with what we've done with the media, we have completely alienated a group of people.
- The agenda of the “Paymasters”:
The media as an institution no longer, or for the longest, does not serve society, it serves those who pay pays it. One of the functions of the media is to perform the surveillance function of the society. So that means the people should be priority. But guess what? Turn on your television, what do you see? You see the agenda of who is paying the guys to be able to push an agenda. So it's even difficult to look at public interest media. So public interest media have been completely delineated from the system of the media. So we have pre-colonial agenda, we have gender - a lack of representation for women, especially, and the third part, the paymasters, they now decide what we hear, what we see and what we read.
- ETI: Is there something you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
One thing I know now is that I deserve a byline. I probably did not know it before. And I say this because I have had to work as a fixer and a stringer for a lot of organisations. Where I completely did not get a byline, even when I probably knew I had contributed at least 60 to 70% of the work. And someone else just said, ‘yeah, you're just a contributor’, and that's it. But now, with “Unbias the News”, I realised that at every stage of the process, I do deserve a byline. And that's the work. Because erasure starts from completely taking me out of the story. It's not just the money. Erasure is taking me out, and saying: ‘I do not exist’. Guess what, I exist. I worked on this project. And that's the work of, you know, of the creative industry. Everybody deserves a byline, who has done the work.
Credits and Licensing
CC BY-SA 4.0
This content is produced by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license
Speaker: Mercy Abang
Video production: Laurence Ivil
Editorial support and coordination: Wael Eskandar, Lieke Ploeger, Laura Ranca
Animation and graphic design: Yiorgos Bagakis, Paulina Rams, Jack Wolf
Music: “Chill Abstract (Intention)" by Coma Media
This video series is part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) project co-funded by the European Commission under the Pilot Project: "Supporting investigative journalism and media freedom in the EU" (DG CONNECT), September 2021 - August 2022
The content reflects the speaker’s views and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.
First published on October 5, 2022