CCTV: Africa’s true image or China’s strategic vehicle?

August 13, 2012 5:11 am


“The thing I like is that we are telling the story from our perspective” – Marshall/COURTESY
NAIROBI, Aug 13 – The countdown starts and the Kenyan news reader runs through the top headlines for the evening bulletin. In a few minutes he will go on air in Nairobi, broadcasting live for China state television.

It’s 8pm in the Kenyan capital and 1am in Beijing, when China Central Television (CCTV) hands over to its Nairobi team for “Africa Live”, an hour-long flagship programme billed as a “new voice” for African news and Sino-African relations.

On a recent night, the spotlight was on Rwanda’s economic expansion and the Somali athletes taking part in the Olympics in London.

“We want to keep a balance,” Pang Xinhua, CCTV’s managing editor who runs a network of correspondents in a dozen African countries, told AFP. “We are not only talking about war, diseases or poverty, we also focus on economic development.”

“Africa Live” is put together by a team of 60 or so people in Nairobi – about 50 of them Kenyans. It holds a prime time slot in east Africa but is also televised worldwide.

“We opened this bureau in order to be able to tell the real Africa story, the real story of China and the real story of Sino-African relations,” CCTV Africa chief Song Jianing said, echoing remarks by China’s ambassador to Kenya when the switchover started in January.

Nairobi was CCTV’s first regional bureau to produce and broadcast its own hour-long news programme. Its cousin CCTV America soon followed suit.

For its inauguration, CCTV Africa managed to get Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka to make a speech.

He urged the channel to “present a new image of the continent” to break with the trend in which Africa is often shown in the international media as “the continent of endless calamities”.

— ‘Too many rely on Western-based news’ —

Chris Alden of the London School of Economics said CCTV Africa is “part of a wider strategy to combat what can be seen as a negative relationship” between China and Africa.

“Chinese officials start from a diagnosis that too many Africans rely on Western-based news services,” said Alden, who is certain CCTV “will have an impact.”

“Where there is deep unhappiness among local African businesses experiencing displacement due to competition from Chinese companies, it won’t eliminate that, but it could lessen a negative effect,” he said.

“It’s also… for Chinese people to get a better understanding of Africa,” he added, saying events like last year’s Libyan conflict in which 30,000 Chinese had to be evacuated by Beijing “have an impact on Chinese investments in Africa.”

For David Bandurski of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University, CCTV Africa is part of China’s bid to beef up its “soft power” strategy, a notion that first emerged with President Hu Jintao in 2007 and aims to win influence abroad by appeal and exchanges rather than threats or force.

Other pundits point to the media’s role in this.

“China has sent its state media on a global mission to advance its influence in the world,” said Yu-Shan Wu from the South African Institute of International Affairs, in a recent paper noting that Beijing’s efforts “previously focused on trade, investment and diplomatic activities.”

And this mission is not limited to CCTV and its Africa broadcasts. The Chinese TV giant also has programmes in French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian, while the state news agency Xinhua is also expanding worldwide.

CCTV Africa, meanwhile, insists that it wants to present the world through an African prism.

“The thing I like is that we are telling the story from our perspective,” said Beatrice Marshall, a star news reader at the Kenyan station KTN who was wooed over to CCTV Africa.

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