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Media Coverage of Eritrea’s Achievements: Allergic and Formulaic

Daniel Teklehaimanot hoisting the Eritrean flag at Tour de France


Media Coverage of Eritrea’s Achievements: Allergic and Formulaic


By Sophia Tesfamariam

This has been an exciting week with Eritrea’s cyclists, Daniel Teclehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus, who are not only making history as the very first Africans in the 102 year old history of the Tour de France, but are also forcing mainstream media into reluctantly acknowledging not just their presence on the Tour, but also their athletic excellence and sportsmanship. The mainstream media has been allergic to any good news about the State of Eritrea, its leadership or its people. This historic moment in cycling history, will also take note of the racism that is wittingly or unwittingly perpetuated by journalists and sportscasters, while it showcases Eritrea’s many talents…and successes.

It took a few days for the mainstream media to come to terms with the historical significance of the participation of the Eritrean duo in the Tour de France. From the very beginning, some journalists who have an aversion to good news from Eritrea tried to downplay the historic moment. The Telegraph’s Tom Cory in his 2 July 2015 article, “Tour de France 2015: MTN Qhubeka to become first African team in competition’s history”, wrote the following:
“…Daniel Teklehaimanot, one of two Eritreans on the Tour team – Eritrea being one African country where there is a culture of cycling thanks to their former colonial masters Italy – won the King of the Mountains title at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné…” 

The tidbit on Italy was unnecessary and an example of such subtle racism. Cory’s intent to drive in the message that Eritreans on their own could not possibly develop this culture without the benevolence of the colonizers is transparent. Such attitudes of the mainstream journalists and sportscasters in the portrayals of athletes of African descent have been the subject of much research.

Much has been written in the past about the media and coverage of athletes of different races and nationalities and there is no doubt that there are stark differences in the ways that Anglo Saxon and African players are depicted in terms of innate athletic skill and perceived intelligence. Researchers have noted that when journalist, sportscasters described players, they would highlight intellect-related qualities for white players, but physical qualities (particularly their appearance) for black players.

James A. Rada and K. Tim Wulfemeyer in Color Coded: Racial Descriptors in Television Coverage of Intercollegiate Sports described the difference in the way African American athletes were portrayed in the mainstream media. They say:

‘….Along with the overt associations that come with describing African American athletes in animal terms, such descriptions also create the impression that they are closer to nature and, thus, further away from civilization…White players receive an increasingly disproportionate amount of positive commentary, and negative commentary toward White players is scarce, often to the point of being entirely absent…we found that announcers continue to paint a picture where African American athletes are portrayed as physical specimens using their God-given, natural ability, whereas White athletes are hard working and intellectually endowed…’ 

Racial bias in sports announcing is not a new phenomenon but one that is being increasingly challenged. Journalists reinforce racial and nationality based stereotypes which perpetuate social injustices with the frames and themes used in their articles. The media provide interpretation of events for consumers and if misleading, these can have negative consequences on society.

Peter Martell, a journalist who in the past pounced on the minutest of incidents in Eritrea teetered on pronouncing this historic event and when he did, he got it all wrong. In his 27 June 2015 Tweet, he claimed that the cyclists had been “allowed to participate”, giving his readers that impression that they would not otherwise be allowed to leave Eritrea. What he didn’t bother to tell his readers is that these two athletes have been training and living outside of Eritrea for quite some time now. The big news at the Tour was not about the white “Kenyan born” athlete, it was about the two Eritreans, Peter Martell could not bring himself to even acknowledge their presence there, let alone the milestone in the Tour’s history.

Martell then proceeded to argue that the two Eritreans were not the first Africans as there was another, the “Kenyan born” Chris Froome who won in 2013. But Froome is “white” and does not claim to be Kenyan, or even use the hyphenated British-Kenyan citizenship. But for Martell, it was a bitter pill to swallow, to acknowledge the fact that an Eritrean, an African, a black man, was actually participating in the Tour. It is best that journalists like Martell stay away from good news from Eritrea lest it triggers another allergic reaction.

But there were some journalists who got it just right. Martin Herman reporting for Reuters on 4 July 2015 article, “Historic moment for Africa as Teklehaimanot starts Tour” said:

“…The first black African to ride the Tour de France was given the honour of being the first of the 198 riders to set off in the medieval Dutch city of Utrecht, where crowds estimated at 700,000 gathered to watch a 14-kilometre individual time trial…Teklehaimanot, 26, is part of debut-making team MTN Qhubeka, the first African proMedia Coverage of Eritrea’s Achievements: Allergic and Formulaic cycling outfit to line up in the world’s greatest race…”

Daniel Teclehaimanot, his infectious smile and his demeanor has won the hearts of millions around the world who have been glued to the TV screens watching him make history and when he did, the story had to be told right. Social media is abuzz with goodwill messages. At first, sportscasters struggled to pronounce his name but soon everyone was saying it with ease, he is fast becoming a household name.

The excitement was palpable. The coverage befitting that of a trailblazer. The media was adjusting, for they risked being left behind. Soon the headlines bore his name and his country-Eritrea and the story for the day remained the same:

“…On today’s sixth stage into Le Havre, one of the team’s two Eritreans, Daniel Teklehaimanot, got himself in the day’s breakaway with the express goal of landing the polka-dot jersey of the mountains classification leader. He managed exactly that, taking maximum points on the stage’s three, fourth-category climbs and overtaking stage 3 winner Joaquim Rodriguez in the KOM classification as a result….In doing so, Teklehaimanot becomes the first African to wear the KOM jersey in the Tour de France and the first black African to wear a Tour de France classification jersey of any kind. In all, just three Africans have worn a leader’s jersey at the Tour de France: Robbie Hunter with the white jersey in 2001 and Daryl Impey with the yellow jersey in 2013…” 

Red polka dots…summer fashion?

But racism threatened to rear its ugly head and ruin an otherwise very pleasant event, when the following was reported by the Daily Mail:

“…The first African team to compete in the Tour de France claim their black riders have been subjected to racism and bullying in the professional peloton…On a day when MTN-Qhubeka celebrated the first black Africanrider to wear a Grand Tour jersey— Daniel Teklehaimanot was in the polka dot ‘King of the Mountains’ jersey here in Le Havre — it emerged that one of their other riders was branded a ‘n*****’ in a corresponding professional race on Wednesday…MTN made an official complaint to the UCI race jury at the Tour of Austria after their rider Natnael Berhane, of Eritrea, claimed he was racially abused by Branislau Samoilau, a rider from Belarus with the CCCSprandi-Polkowice team…”

In Eritrea, most will say, “himaq melati wiilu”, and will probably not remember this faux pax and un-sportsmanship behavior by Branislau Samoilau. But he is a product of his environment-in Eritrea they will say “ata’ababiya zibedelo”. When white athletes are portrayed as hardworking, diligent and persistent, and those of African descent are portrayed as being overreliant on their natural gifts, as opposed to their work ethic, which perpetuates the broader stereotype of black people as lazy, Samoilau and others like him probably don’t know that these Eritrean athletes are known for their hard work and determination. He probably only knows Eritrea through the lenses of the mainstream media-and its youth as being mere “slaves”.

Doug Ryder, the Team principal knows that it was hard work and determination that enabled his team to be in the tour:

“…It’s amazing what you can do when you get an opportunity…When we announced we’d have our team in the Tour de France, it was kind of like a door was lifted off [the riders’] heads…we’re in the biggest race in the world … we’re here to compete and we’re here on merit; we’re not here because we’re African.’ We are absolutely here on merit and it’s given them that extra few percent in mental confidence. Physically they were there and now they’re racing like they own it…”

They did not receive any special privileges; this was not a racial quote being fulfilled…

So the stories of Eritrea’s athletes will be told over and over again, but in the end, the whole world will see in these young men, a true image of Eritrea. Natnael Berhane in not wanting the Belarussian rider Branislau Samoilau to be kicked out of the event is another testament to the magnanimous character and culture of the Eritrean people misrepresented by the mainstream media whose allergy to anything Eritrean is fast finding a cure in success...
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Media Coverage of Eritrea’s Achievements: Allergic and Formulaic Reviewed by Admin on 3:46 PM Rating: 5

11 comments:

  1. Thanks Baba Esseyas for giving your legs to Daniel and Merhawi, without your legs they wouldn't even rode a mile.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Racism is still existing and it is no surprise when the difference of black and white still going on. The war is invisible it uses different methods of abusing our rights. We r not also couregous enough to stand up and fight for ourselves eventhough we have the resources at hand. Some Africans are allowing our resources to be abused. The Eritrean gov't has said in black and white that "Self-reliance" is the best tool to get out of poverty instead of others tried to live for us. Unless we awake up the propaganda will not stop!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Goradew sew belaJuly 15, 2015 at 6:52 PM

    Is it not a fact that eritreans learnt cycling from the colonial master ITALY.Sophia like her eritrean brothers and sisters is allergy to the truth.Having brought up in Addis i thought she had changed...aja woktew bizerut aja..simply descrbes her. .WUSHETAM.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Goradew sew Bela:
    She is entitled to her opinion and remember that she hero Zeray Deres' daughter but she could have done better if she uses her talent fully and honestly with out bias.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Tewlede.It ain't a Rocket Science but I am at loss as to why we are in the situation we are in now...
    After I read ten times Vet Mahmoud Saleh's response to Vet Semere Tesfay,I "hated" myself.
    It has been,indeed,our own blindness and dumbness that has led us to our current MESS!
    Simple mistakes by ONE man ruining a Nation and a People,who won against all ODDs under the Sun??
    Something should be WRONG!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Love your articulation,BTW,Bro Tewelde ! kind of "envious",NOT jealous though!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Another excellent article Sophia! The best example of media's racism that I could think of is Serena Williams and Michael Phelps. When Michael Phelps went on the remarkable run of 8 gold medals during the 2012 Beijing Olympics, the media did an amazing job at describing his workout routine. The media continued with the narrative of a hard working man who has loved swimming since his childhood.. they even mentioned how many calories a day he consumes to show how intense his workouts are. Just last week Serena Williams went on to win her second "“Serena Slam” (winning all four majors in a row) by winning the 2015 Wimbledon Championships – her 6th Wimbledon and 21st Grand Slam singles title overall." However the media fails to cover her work ethic and continues to credit her success to her BEAST-like God given physical features. Thank you for raising awareness on the media's racism.. We are very proud of Daniel and Merhawi.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Tewelde G/mariamJuly 17, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    Hope: thank you!

    You are right but it is no more mystery. The wolves who have been masquerading as patriotic Eritreans are now naked for all of us to see their true identity and evil motive. However, the damage they have inflicted on our social fabric and economic infrastructure is humongous to say the least. But it is always better to be late than never. Now that we have awakened from our slumber , we must very quickly abandoned the two evil Camps, woyane and isaias afewerki, and join our hands around the sovereignty of our country, its territorial integrity and its Constitution , which we ratified in 1997.

    By the way, I too am impressed with Mahmoud Saleh. He is an asset in our struggle to ressurect The Mighty EPLF's legacy ,which has been hijacked by the usurper and his cabals. He seems to have tremendous knowledge of the past and exceptional talent to communicate it to the new generations. I am hopeful he will be one of our leaders in our reclamation processes.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Tewelde G/mariamJuly 17, 2015 at 7:40 AM

    Hope:
    The admiration is mutual, and thank you for standing tall for our beloved home land, which is , for me, The Holiest place on planet Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I extracted the following points both from Hope and Tewolde and I realized that both of you have the interest of upper hand of EPLF. ' 'The Mighty EPLF's legacy'. This is really ridiculos and very disappointing because the atrocity was over long time ago. Why bringing this again? Enjoy the blessing 'Sel-reliance' . It is the best solution not to be under invisible colony. Compare ours with Greek and Ethiopia i.e full of debts. The policy is implemented. Loan is no good!

    "That the death of the Ratified Constitution has led to the devastation
    of our Economy,specially the Private Sector,which could have saved
    partially the messy and scary Exodus,if our Youth were/is allowed to be
    creative,to go toschool, and to work."

    - Are y undermining the present educational system? Raising the implementation of constitution all the time is personally I feel is a covered evil i.e only to finding faults. It doesn't help the people rather building the society is very helpful. The youth are not deprived of their rights educating the future nation is an obligation of the gov't and is doing its best.

    'The Concentration Camp, he calls, National Service,'

    Being out of yr country enjoying the faciliy of other efforts is cheating oneself. To make the country a better place, the struggle of every Eritreans to take Eritrea out of sanction is an obligation. Refer to what the Iranian President said that how sanction has bad effect to each and every citizen of his as well us.

    ' which is , for me, The Holiest place on planet Earth.' If y really love yr country be courageous enough to work together to build the society and learn to appreciate what is on the ground and both take yrself out from the "MIND SET" Love is sacrificing!

    ReplyDelete

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