Beijing, China – Mainstream media in the People’s Republic of China has a tough job in presenting the full picture of the country to the outside world.
Most of the world, especially Africa, heavily relies on western media as news sources about China – reports the Asian superpower sees as unbalance and bias.
China’s influence is growing across the world, evident by the rejuvenation of the One Belt, One Road Initiative (OBOR) by President Xi Jinping which gives the Asian nation - the world’s second largest economy – a more global responsibility for developing countries.
Economic and multilateral cooperation with African countries in recent years is proving pivotal despite misconceptions about China’s presence on the continent.
But the Chinese media must challenge their western counterpart by solidifying and expanding its presence on the continent to reshape the narratives without distortions.
And this is what several media houses in Beijing are now considering though it would require time and massive resources.
“We are working to expand our accessibility in other countries,” said Li Bin, Deputy Director of China Global Television Network (CGTN).
“We have a special team focusing on localizing CGTN in other African countries.”
Set up in 2000, CGTN is a multilingual auxiliary of state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) with the main focus on targeting and informing international audience about China. With two studios outside the county – in Washington and Nairobi respectively - the network is strengthening China’s international influence from a media perspective.
Considered by many industry pundits as a response to western networks like America’s Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), CGTN says its arms are open for collaboration with private television stations in Africa.
The bureau in Kenya has over 80 Africans working alongside 40 Chinese but still appears inadequate to completely cover the massive continent. According to Li, the network wants to open bureaus in other African countries because “they don’t think a certain country should be excluded”.
Expanding across Africa seems to be at least one of the objectives for most influential and prominent media outlets in China including mega firms like China Daily, ChinaAfrica magazine, and popular online news, China.org.cn, amongst others.
China Daily, the country’s premiere English language daily and weekly newspaper with a global circulation of 900,000 a day and 61 million subscribers – both online news and social media, also wants to set up more bureaus to compliment the only one in Nairobi, Kenya.
Out of 18 overseas bureaus, the one in East Africa publishes a weekly Africa’s edition and circulates 8,000 copies weekly to Kenya and South Africa.
Expansion on the continent might help narrow the paper’s popularity gap in Africa as compare to its mammoth presence in Asia. It currently reaches 50 million Asian readers and distributes 5 million inserts to foreign newspapers excluding Africa’s.
Founded in 1981when the PRC’s begin ‘opening up to the rest of the world’, the paper continues to build a reputation for explaining major PRC government’s policies to the outside world.
Like China Daily, ChinaAfrica magazine, a subsidiary of 59 year old Beijing Review – formally Peking Review – promulgates the significance and objectives of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) which was launched in 2000 by giving diverse perspectives in English and French languages about the benefits for both sides.
“We promote understanding between China and Africa and enhance cooperation between Africa and China”, said Ni Yanshou, Assistant Executive Editor of ChinaAfrica, during a recent exchange with African and Asian journalists in Beijing.
The magazine has a readership encompassing government officials, political parties and business executives from both China and Africa – forging a reputation of being an influential Sino-African media platform. Its 30,000 copies monthly circulation is mainly based on subscription, and limits the magazine’s availability in many African countries.
The foremost challenge for many Chinese media seeking Africa’s attention appears to be diversifying their physical presence across the continent by moving to several countries in Western and Central regions of the continent since already accessible in East and Southern Africa.
Some major Chinese media houses say Nairobi is ideal due to its geographical location; others prefer South Africa as a base though these media outlets are fully aware of the dividends in having visible presence in most parts of the continent.
An agreement recently signed between ChinaAfrica magazine and a major media firm in Senegal is a step toward and would expand its presence in West African Francophone nations.
“We want more news from outside Nairobi to diversify our reports – we need to have more coverage of the whole of Africa,” said Su Qiang, Deputy Director of the International news department at China Daily, adding that an ongoing research could influence decision to setup more bureaus across Africa.
“We want to have our own voices heard in Africa and want to cooperate with African media to cover China-Africa relationship,” he said.
Added Haung Shan of China.org.cn: “We will work in the future to get more collaboration with African media…; hopefully when many Africans get access to internet our readership will improve on the continent.”
Haung is senior staff at the multilingual online news service with 104 million daily views, 30% of its followers are outside China - just 2% is from Africa.
This means the website has low viewing rate by African users of new media.
“The presence of the Chinese media must be enhanced to expand the true picture of China to the rest of the world,” Ni said.
Most powerful mainstream media institutions in the country are state-owned but maintain that they should not be judged by ownership but commitment to serving the interest of the country, and probably sharing interest with developing nations in Africa would solidify the cooperation.
“Our door is open to collaborate with private stations, openness is the approach we (will) use to reach other African media,” Mr. Li, a senior official of China’s main international television said.