left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Changing perceptions

Updated: 2013-01-11 15:21
By Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan ( China Daily)

 Changing perceptions

Song Jianing wants to provide a view of the real China to Africa and the real Africa to the rest of the world. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Bureau chief aims to provide more in-depth views of continent

Song Jianing is on a mission not just to change Africa's view of China but also the world's perspective on Africa. As bureau chief of China Central Television Africa in Nairobi, the 46-year-old is now one of the most powerful television executives on the continent. She heads a team of 100 journalists and other staff, of whom 60 are Africans, producing a daily one-hour news and current affairs program that is broadcast across the globe. "We not only want to provide a view of the real China to Africa but also the real Africa to the rest of the world," she says.

"So often Western media present Africa as just about wars, starvation and disasters when there is so much else going on. Similarly, they do not convey an objective view of China either," she says.

Song, a former deputy director of CCTV's French channel as well as its anchor presenter, was speaking from the station's base in Wood Lane, Nairobi, which includes two state-of-the-art studios.

CCTV Africa was launched in January last year and is now one of five major CCTV regional centers around the world outside of the Chinese mainland. The others are in Moscow, Sao Paulo, Dubai and Hong Kong.

There are high hopes in Beijing for its Africa output since there is a lot of interest among Africans about China as a result of the world's second largest economy's major economic involvement in the continent.

"African people have a fascination about China and want to know more and more about it," she says.

Song has made an effort to recruit some big African journalist names to give the station an African as well as Chinese face. CCTV is following the model of broadcasters like Doha-based Al Jazeera that has hired high-profile presenters such as Sir David Frost.

Changing perceptions

"Our main program Africa Live has three presenters who are all high profile Kenyan stars. This way we are able to compete with CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera," she says.

One of these is Beatrice Marshall, a former news anchor for Kenya Television Network. She is now a regular presence for the Chinese television station from its new Nairobi studios.

"It was a very big decision for me because I was the face of KTN. I had been there for 14 years and was very much part of the station," she says.

She insists she was lured more by Song's vision for CCTV rather than just cash.

"I was very much hooked by this idea of showing what really goes on in Africa," she says.

"You get a 1980s or 1990s view from a lot of media and the real Africa now is massively different."

The station's main program Africa Live can be seen on the CCTV News channel for an hour on prime time evening television in most of Africa. It is available for night owls in China at 1 am.

There are also two separate weekend shows, Talk Africa and Faces of Africa, which provide a platform for influential African voices.

CCTV Africa now has 14 bureaux across Africa, from Johannesburg in the south to Algiers in the north.

"This is an important step for CCTV's strategy to become more international. Other foreign media have reporting teams throughout the world and so CCTV can do the same," says Song.

"Previously CCTV used to get a lot of its content from foreign news agencies, which didn't always represent a Chinese perspective. It is our aim now to do much more of our own content throughout the world."

Fluent in French rather than English herself, she very much wants to extend CCTV's reach to Francophone African countries and providing more content in French.

"We are planning to open a French-speaking studio in one of the French-speaking West African countries to report French news and produce discussion programs. This is something we are discussing at the moment," she says.

Song, who majored in French at Capital Normal University, began her career at CCTV 20 years ago.

She first visited Africa in 1989 when she went to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) on an assignment for ChinAfrica, a Beijing-based monthly magazine targeting African readers, then a new magazine launched by Beijing Review.

"This gave me a deep emotional feeling about Africa and coming here again has rekindled it," she says.

In the three months after launch, some 90 percent of the 800 stories put out by CCTV Africa were locally generated and she says the feedback has been good.

"CCTV is increasingly becoming a familiar brand. Many more people know it and we are confident of Africa being another step in its future development," she says.

For Song, in order to build CCTV into a strong media power in Africa, investing in local talent is important.

Eric Njorka, 27 and another journalist recruited from KTN, says CCTV has given him more scope.

"While I have been here I have been able to travel to four African countries and it has given me a broader experience," he says.

He says he is also impressed by the work ethic of his Chinese colleagues in the newsroom. "You need to try and be as fast as they are. We like calling them workaholics," he says.

Marshall says it is CCTV's global scope that means it can compete directly with rivals like CNN and Al Jazeera that impresses her.

"Every night we speak to our people in New York, London and South Africa. We also have 14 functional bureaux across Africa," she says.

"If something happens in Cairo, Libya or Angola, we are there."

Contact the writers through

andrewmoody@chinadaily.com.cn and zhongnan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/11/2013 page20)

  • Group a building block for Africa

    An unusually heavy downpour hit Durban for two days before the BRICS summit's debut on African soil, but interest for a better platform for emerging markets were still sparked at the summit.