News: The growth of Chinese influence on African media may undermine continent’s democracies

Chinese

Since 2012, Xi Jinping has repeatedly instructed Chinese State Media Organizations to tell “compelling Chinese narratives” and “better communicate China’s message to the world”.

According to economictimes.indiatimes.com, in compliance to Xi’s instructions, the Chinese state-owned media has been increasing their presence in African countries as part of their “Going Out Strategy”. The Communist party of China’s (CPC) propaganda arms are the Xinhua, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International and China Daily. With the concerted efforts of these outlets, it is believed that the African public opinion in context of China-Africa Relations has improved, according to persons who track China-Africa ties.

As of February 2018, Xinhua had 28 bureaus across Africa. By employing state- owned TV, radio, online and social media outlets, Beijing has successfully built the largest network of correspondents worldwide.

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While Xinhua wired media content free of charge, scholarships were offered for the African students in journalism and technical assistance was provided to African broadcast companies by the Chinese agencies. These state-owned agencies also bought media houses, besides setting up their own media enterprises in the Continent.

The African branch of the CGTN is headquartered in Nairobi. Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Liu Guangyuan also commented that the Chinese TV’s African Branch will help the world better understand the developments in China, Africa and China-Africa relations and eliminate misunderstanding.

Beijing has always viewed Africa as a testing ground to export concepts of its political and economic governance. The focus is to promote its model of state- led economic growth under one-party rule to African countries through its media influence and sales of advanced digital surveillance technology, sold by China through its promotion of the “Digital Silk Road”, with focused investments by Huawei, ZTE and Hikvision.

“This is part of China’s overall strategy to mould public opinion including in Africa and among vulnerables,” CUTS Secretary General Pradeep Mehta and and an avid Africa watcher told ET.

The dominance across the African technological landscape has allowed for replication of the CCP’s model of techno- authoritarianism in the continent and many African regimes have started to oppress any political dissent on the CCP’s model.

Investments made through Huawei and ZTE has also resulted establishing of in more than forty ‘3rd Generation’ Telecom Networks in about 30 African countries. Notably, media consumption in most parts of Africa is through mobile devices which serve Chinese propaganda in the handsets of African population. Besides accessing the African audiences through mobile devices, editorial content is produced for consumption of the African outlets with no indication of Beijing’s involvement.

Articles from the Xinhua News Agency are being widely adopted by Kenyan English Newspapers pushing forward the Chinese view point. In November 2019, the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation passed off as locally generated content, a story lauding China’s efforts to “alleviate poverty” in Xinjiang.

In an effort to re-orient ‘World Media Order’, China also seeks to shape the African media space, to encourage media narratives favorable to Beijing and its model of state-directed journalism with effort. To promote its BRI it established ‘Belt and Road News Network’ which includes 182 media outlets from 86 countries, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia.

In August 2017, “China-Africa Media Dialogue” was hosted by the Information Office of the State Council of China. Jointly organized by the Xinhua News Agency and the South Africa Independent Media Group, the event themes were “Knowing Each Other”, “Working Together” and “Hand in Hand for the Future”.

More than 40 media figures including Guo Weimin, Deputy Director of the Information Office of the State Council of China, Lin Songtian, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Ruan Ping, Chinese Consul General in Johannesburg and media representatives from the Chinese Media in Africa & 11 African countries participated in the event.

To support its priorities and worldview, Beijing lorganizes an annual program ‘China-Africa Press Center’, wherein about 20-25 African journalists are granted paid trips to China for training. Journalists who have attended these programs have been found to incorporate ‘Chinese talking points’ into their home news outlets. The goal of these trainings is to improve China’s image abroad and to build a pro-Chinese Communist Party narrative.

These efforts found support among the African media and Editor-in-Chief of Zimbabwe ‘Herald’ Manzvan Viko opined that Africa can achieve a ‘win-win situation’ by cooperation with China in the field of media. She added that African media needed to learn from the reporting methods of Chinese media to help the government formulate its development policies.

China-Africa Development Fund and Star Times Group had signed a cooperation agreement. The Star Times Group is a major TV channel in Africa and provides a full range of services for middle class consumers. President Xi announced the “10,000 Villages” program at Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2015.

The program aims to provide digital satellite television to rural communities in 25 sub-Saharan African countries. StarTimes, associated with the Chinese government, is the contractor for the project. As of September 2018, StarTimes had nearly 20 million users in more than 30 African countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

The Chinese media, being far more mature in terms of filtering as well as controlling the information in comparison to the African media, would play a role to further Beijing’s geo-political interests besides building a narrative for its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, in spite of its negative fallouts.

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