Under Duskens article «Snapshots of change» does not offer a nuanced perspective on the Maasai, says the writers of this opinion piece.
We want to tell you the story of a country. It’s a country which has been deprived of its independence several times. The most recent war claimed many civilian lives, but the state has managed well in recovering, with good help of foreign aid. In contrary to the case of Angola and Benin, the discovery of natural resource reserves has helped the way out of misery and poverty. Over the last few years it’s become quite the travel destination, and affluent tourists from all over the globe come to experience the traditional culture, exotic food and spectacular nature. Local and indigenous communities are concerned about their culture being watered out, the garbage left by the tourists and the traditional trails being downtrodden, but tourism is an important source of income, so it’s hard to refuse the development.
The country we are portraying here is Norway. Does it surprise you? What places came to your mind when reading about foreign aid, poverty, exotic food, and development? We all associate particular words, stories and forms of phrasing with particular situations, places or people. Of course, those perspectives are also a part of the reality, but as author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie puts it: «The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.» There is a lot of power in being a journalist. You get to choose what information is being published, and consequently, what the reader learns about the topic. This is a responsibility that we believe the editors of Under Dusken has not taken seriously when publishing the article «Snapshots of change» in the previous issue.
No story has an «unsorted version». In order for us to understand an article, we need to know more about these stories: context matters! An article like «Snapshots of change» requires more background on how the story came to be. Why did the journalist travel to Tanzania? How were the language barriers overcome? The credibility of the article is further undermined by the lack of cultural context. Most Norwegian readers are not familiar with the Maasai people, and as such this article will be their only source of information. The lack of context in this article doesn’t portray the diversity of the Maasai people, and despite good intentions, becomes a reproduction of an incomplete story.
Furthermore, upholding the dignity of people is essential when portraying them in articles. One picture used in this article shows naked boys standing by a river. If someone who visited Heimdal and wrote a piece about gender norms chose to accompany the text with a picture of naked Norwegian children, not a single newspaper in Norway would publish it. It seems like the boundaries for what is ethically accepted to publish change when the cultural context is different from ours.
The fact that our student newspaper tries to look beyond our immediate surroundings is great, but Under Dusken owes it to its readers to provide a more nuanced and reflected view of the world. If not, they will only be reproducing, as the journalist of the article phrases it, the «tales mistold a hundred times before».