New players are appearing on the media markets of developing countries – that includes media players from emerging countries. China's engagement in Africa was one focus of a DW Akademie panel held during the GMF.
In January 2012 China's state-run broadcaster, China Central Television (CCTV), launched a daily English news program from its regional network center in Nairobi, Kenya. CCTV Africa covers developments on the continent and elsewhere, and is aimed at an African, Chinese and international audience. Other Chinese media players in Africa include the Xinhua News Network Corporation and China Radio International.
Among the DW Akademie panel members were Yu-Shan Wu, a South African researcher looking at China's involvement with African state media, and Mark Kaigwa, a Kenyan media consultant based in Nairobi.
Westerners often think China's priorities in Africa are extracting natural resources and increasing trade. Why, then, is China now becoming active in Africa’s media market?
Yu-Shan Wu: It's not exactly a new phenomenon. In the 1950s Chinese media such as the Xinhua News Agency was active in supporting African liberation movements. In the early 2000s China's media focus was on providing technical and infrastructure support for African state broadcasters. While that support continues, the focus has again changed: China is now a global economic player and wants to put across its own point of view.
Why is that so important?
Yu-Shan Wu: There are various reasons. One is that western media often portray China in a negative way - as an economic competitor, as a "rogue donor" supporting corrupt governments. China wants to counter that image in Africa and elsewhere, and wants to be the one shaping public opinion about its activities.
At the same time, China has to motivate and inspire its own domestic public. The Chinese are tired of ideology, and as the world becomes more interconnected the government wants its people to better understand its activities abroad.
During the panel discussion you mentioned the 2008 financial crisis. What role did it play for China's media engagement?
Yu-Shan Wu: It played a pivotal one in terms of China's global strategy. The crisis resulted in existing international media players reducing their spending and turning their focus inwards. China and other emerging countries, however, did have money available; China invested heavily in its global media presence, and that included Africa.
2008 was also the year that China hosted the Olympic Games, and this opened up doors for more criticism from the outside. China was accused, for example, of disregarding human rights in Tibet and elsewhere. These and other criticisms increased China's motivation to establish a global media presence where it could communicate a peaceful, non-threatening image.
In terms of Africa, the Chinese media are still criticized for focusing only on positive aspects and not on domestic issues or their real relationships with African governments.
How are Africans reacting to China's involvement in the media market?
Mark Kaigwa: It's interesting because until recently Africans only learned about China through the western media, and that meant we only had a western perspective. We are now in direct contact with China and that’s bringing in other dynamics. African journalists, for example, are being sent to China for training and are meeting their Chinese counterparts.
At CCTV Africa, for example, anchors regularly travel to Beijing. It's also interesting that the majority of journalists working for the corporation are Africans as opposed to Chinese, and that they’re often top journalists. Local African stations don’t necessarily see CCTV as a threat because it has a wider African focus.
Has censorship become a more pressing issue in Africa now that China is increasing its media presence?
Mark Kaigwa: We really have to look at this case-by-case. There are 55 countries in Africa and they’re not all in favor of a free press, regardless of China's activities. Individual governments are taking their own positions on this.
However, since 2009 China has become Africa's largest trading partner, and economic interests are playing a role. There are those who are benefiting from China's development activities and those who are not, and that can influence the way they view issues such as freedom of the press.