The South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) has taken on an exceedingly important task. It has launched a ‘China in Africa’ research project. The project ‘investigates the emerging relationship between Africa and China’ and ‘seeks to develop an understanding of the motives, rationale and institutional structures guiding China’s Africa policy, and to study China’s growing power and influence so that they will help rather than hinder development in Africa’. (p.2). The important research paper that prompted this blog post– ‘The Rise of China’s State-Led Media Dynasty in Africa’– was published in June this year by SAIIA as part of the ‘China in Africa’ research project. The author, Yu–Shan Wu, is a researcher on the team.
The report shows that China is moving into the African media landscape with a striking comprehensiveness and intensity. Wu’s report is frank and detailed. China’s efforts are designed to attain two objectives:
- Win African hearts and minds; and
- Shape media structures and practices in Africa.
And China is pouring significant resources into the effort. First, China’s three state controlled media giants are moving into the continent of Africa in a big way. They are:
Second, China is deepening collaboration with state broadcasters throughout the continent. And China has a competitive advantage here: many poor African countries find it difficult to properly equip and staff their state broadcasting corporations, and Western donors tend to fund efforts to build independent media, so the Chinese have moved into the space created.
Wu provides a table showing Chinese media engagement in Africa between 2000 and 2012 by country of operation, type of engagement and activity, (pages 13-15). It is eloquent in its comprehensiveness.
Third, China has taken it upon itself to, as Wu says, ‘disseminate its media philosophy in Africa, where many countries are still searching for a model.’ (p. 18). Therefore, it has launched a series of workshops for African journalists…in China.
Happily, Wu’s paper does not ignore the difficult questions provoked by China’s massive push into the African media landscape. She raises two in particular:
- China seeks to enhance its soft power and build legitimacy but will doing business with ‘controversial regimes’ not undermine these goals? (p. 19)
- Will the nature of the media system in China itself not complicate efforts to win the support of journalists in Africa? Wu reports on some of the controversies surrounding the effort already on pages 21and 22.
Wu also reports that China’s moves into the media landscape of Africa are far less impactful in countries with rich and diverse media systems like Nigeria and South Africa. (Page 19).
Wu’s report ends, in part, with this striking conclusion:
…China may very well need to adapt to global and local norms, as audiences have not yet bought into its values…China has irrefutably made an immense effort to send its message abroad, but ensuring that the actual message is acknowledged is another matter.
Photo Credit: xiaming