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Ground reality

Updated: 2014-01-10 11:52
By Li Lianxing in Nairobi ( China Daily Africa)

Ground reality 

Zhang Yanqiu, director of the Africa Communication Research Center at the Communication University of China. Photos by Zi Ran / For China Daily

Image perception

Zhang from the CUC says that there are many stereotypes and misunderstandings about Chinese media outlets in Africa.

"Some argue that the positive reporting of Chinese media outlets is more like propaganda. But that is not the whole story. These outlets follow China's policy of non-interference, and therefore stories on Sino-African partnership and friendship get more priority," she says.

"I would like to call this constructive journalism as it covers positive and solution-focused news formats, narratives, angles, and styles of debate."

According to Zhang, such an approach results in reports that empower the people, and in information that can be used constructively while remaining accurate and critical where necessary. "Constructive journalism is the new paradigm in global communication and the pivot for future cooperation between China and Africa."

Tang Xiaoyang, a researcher at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says that due to the limited number of communication channels, there are often rumors and exaggerations on China-Africa relations.

"Most of the audiences do not know the reality and the overall situation. It is not surprising to find public opinion being based on anecdotes," he says, adding that, "the key is to increase various forms of communication and expand coverage."

Ma Shukun, head of the new media department in the African regional bureau of Xinhua, says that the news agency considers Africa to be an important destination due to its growing economic importance.

"We cover Africa through our Africa bureau in Nairobi and have 27 affiliates across the sub-Saharan region. We have about 70 Chinese employees and more than 400 local correspondents," he says.

Ma says that Xinhua is also looking to develop new media products and apply the latest technology in Africa. It recently created the Xinhua Africa app to provide African and international users with easier access to news through mobile devices.

"Chinese media organizations are actively participating in Africa's progress with accurate, objective, fair, impartial and timely news reports from different perspectives," he says. "Our endeavor is to present the true Africa to the world with accurate, objective reports reflecting the challenges and the positive developments."

Such an approach, Ma says, is essential as Africa is developing rapidly, and the accomplishments need to be popularized to realize development goals.

Pang Xinhua, head of the regional production center for CCTV Africa, says the Chinese broadcaster is looking to offer a new perspective to local audiences with balanced, in-depth, and objective reports.

Currently CCTV Africa produces and broadcasts programs from Africa in Chinese and English on a daily basis. It plans to broaden this by adding programs in French.

Though there is tough competition from Western broadcasters such as BBC and CNN, CCTV has been able to command its own niche in Africa, Pang says.

"Many political and business leaders in Africa are keen to talk to emerging international media outlets as they are more objective in their reporting. They are not too happy with the high position taken by Western media outlets and cautious about their preset traps," he says.

Real advantage

 Ground reality

China Central Television at a digital TV exhibition in Johannesburg. Li Qihua / Xinhua

Suleiman Maina Bisalla, deputy editor of the Daily Trust newspaper from Nigeria, says media cooperation between China and Africa is still limited in scope and scale.

But the real advantage of such cooperation is that it offers African countries an opportunity to understand China from the perspective of the Chinese and for China to understand Africa from the perspective of Africans.

Experts, however, feel that more media partnerships are on cards as Chinese enterprises are capable of funding such ventures.

"There is huge potential for provision of software and financing of capital projects in the African media industry. This is likely to continue in the future also as the African media sector still lags in adoption of modern technologies," says Bisalla from the Daily Trust newspaper.

"Most of the television and radio stations still use the analog technology, and are in the process of switching to digital technology. Newspapers and magazines are also keen on using the latest software and printing machines to save costs ."

Matlotleng Matlou, director of Excelsior Afrika Consulting in South Africa, says the priority for both sides is to inform people about the real developments.

"Media from China and Africa, regardless of where they are, should raise contentious issues, difficult questions and other challenges in the relationship between the two sides to solicit informed views, promote debate and understanding among the public," he says.

Bernadette Namata Umutoni, team leader of newspaper Rwanda Today, says the present coverage of Africa and China and vice-versa is still far from enough as most of the stories are limited to official visits, or trade and investment deals.

Umutoni says along with the deepening involvement between the two sides, media outlets should reach out to interests in African and Chinese affairs that go beyond officialdom such as more feature stories and documentaries about ordinary lives in Africa or China.

"To achieve this, ties between the two sides should go beyond state-owned/run media outlets to private media houses and organizations," she says.

Ronald Mutie, a reporter with CRI in Nairobi for more than six years, says his reports have helped bring African audiences closer to China and the Chinese audiences closer to Africa. But he says the media imbalances need to be addressed quickly for further progress.

"Though Chinese media has made significant strides in Africa, not much can be said about African media strides in China," he says. "It is important to have an increased African media presence in China as this will help increase information flows."

Mutie says that Chinese media outlets should also increase local hiring, as it would help generate more unbiased and apt information on Africa-related issues.

As a beneficiary of a short-term training program in Beijing, Mutie says more consolidated media cooperation can be achieved through such platforms as they help in transfer of technology and better efficiency.

"This should be a two-way exercise. Just as we need more African reporters to receive training in China, we also need more Chinese journalists to come to Africa," he says.

Bob Wekesa, a Kenyan researcher at the Communication University of China, says platforms such as the Forum on China Africa Cooperation can help in creating the joint efforts and strategies for future media cooperation.

"Indeed, it would be interesting to see media organizations from Chinese provinces and cities and those from provinces or counties in African countries initiate partnership projects and programs," he says. "This is already happening in other sectors, such as medical teams from Chinese provinces partnering with various African countries and Chinese and African traders working together."

Wekesa says new and social media lag behind other forms of media cooperation, yet both China and African countries are registering globally significant use of new media, mostly by young people using mobile phones and tablets.

"Means and ways of tapping into Africa's and China's youth bulge through digital media are countless and should be explored. One approach would be to create online groups where Chinese and African youth and indeed any other age groups could engage in online interactions," he says.


 Ground reality

Matlotleng Matlou, director of Excelsior Afrika Consulting. Photos by Zi Ran / For China Daily

 Ground reality

Xinhua News Agency launched the mobile version of its program Xinhua Gallery. Liu Chan / Xinhua

( China Daily Africa Weekly 01/10/2014 page1)

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