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History Informs Africa Coverage

Sep 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Desegregation pioneer and award-winning journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault has been named the 2008 recipient of the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Achievement Award, to be presented by the National Association for Multi-ethnicity in Communications.
The award, named for the late Texas congressman who advocated the belief that humanitarian needs should not be political, was established in 1992 to honor individuals or organizations demonstrating a commitment to furthering the causes and concerns of people of color.
Ms. Hunter-Gault is the winner of two Emmy Awards for her work as national correspondent for PBS’ “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” and a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcast journalism for her contribution to “Apartheid’s People,” a “NewsHour” series on South Africa. She also is the author of “In My Place,” a 1992 memoir detailing her sometimes harrowing experiences as the first black woman to gain admission to, and graduate from, the University of Georgia.
Now located in Johannesburg, South Africa, Ms. Hunter-Gault said many of the perceptions Americans have of Africa are limited. In her 2006 book, “New News Out of Africa: Uncovering Africa’s Renaissance,” Ms. Hunter-Gault said she wanted to “establish a greater balance as you look at Africa. Most Americans see Africa as the Four D’s: Death, Disease, Disaster and Despair.
“There’s plenty of all those things there,” she said, “but there’s more to the continent than that. They’re making baby steps toward justice.”
Ms. Hunter-Gault, who works in both print and television in Johannesburg, said South African journalists have greater freedom than other journalists on the continent. “They have challenges by the government, but nobody is ever stopped from printing. The government has shut down all the political media in Zimbabwe, but in South Africa, even the news organizations that are critical are allowed to print.”
Her focus has altered as her location changed, she said. “At ‘MacNeil/Lehrer,’ I was looking at issues that affect the entire world. Now I’m looking at issues affecting South Africa and the 54 countries on the African continent.
“It’s a shame news media organizations are closing bureaus at the very time when they most need to remain open,” she said. “Big mistakes have been made in American thinking as a result. In the Cold War, when there was a lot of attention on media, there at least was international news. This is the time to expand, not withdraw.”
Previous winners of the Mickey Leland Humanitarian Award include CNN anchors Soledad O’Brien and Anderson Cooper; former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume; George Herrera, former CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson; and former United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson.
The award will be presented at the NAMIC annual conference general session, scheduled for Tuesday at the New York Marriott Marquis.

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