Emeka Umejei. Chinese Journal of Communication. Volume 11, Issue 3. 2018.
The expansion of Chinese media into Africa has elicited widespread concerns about its impact on journalism professionalization on the African continent. These fears are not unfounded when measured against the role of China’s state-led media. President Xi Jinping recently reaffirmed the most important role of the Chinese media is to speak for the government and the Chinese Communist Party (“Xi Jinping asks for absolute loyalty,” 2016). This suggests Chinese media organizations are to promote state-centric and tightly regulated journalism in which journalistic autonomy and freedom of the press are considered secondary to the interests of the party-state.
The debate on the ideological motivation of China’s media expansion into Africa has attracted widespread attention among scholars and practitioners of journalism. The debate has been predominantly framed through the bifocal prism of positive or negative. Farah and Mosher (2010) contend the aim of China’s media expansion is to move journalism away from the watchdog role toward a lapdog role:
As part of its efforts to do this, the Chinese government seeks to fundamentally reshape much of the world’s media in its own image, away from a watchdog stance toward the government to one where the government’s interests are the paramount concern in deciding what to disseminate. (Farah & Mosher, 2010, p. 4)
This has been counteracted by Ngomba (2012a), who argues Africa is not yet on the cusp of embracing a Chinese model of journalism:
Politically speaking, taken together, sub-Saharan Africa is currently a bit too open (at least compared to China) for it to harbour the type of media system that exists currently in China. Beyond the lack of financial and material wherewithal to both develop and control the media as the Communist Party does in China, African governments are caught up with unceasing domestic demands for more freedom and international (mostly, if not entirely, Western) pressure for the entrenchment of liberal democracy to the extent that “going the China way” will obviously be perceived within and out of Africa as moving several steps behind. (Ngomba, 2012a, p. 62)
These two strands of academic research on the influence of Chinese media on journalistic orientation on the African continent, however, have downplayed how exposure of African journalists to Chinese media, as well as their socialization into it, may affect their journalistic orientation. This article contributes an original account of African journalists who have been socialized in Chinese media to the debate on the impact of China’s state-led media on journalistic professionalization in Africa. This article argues that Chinese media expansion into Africa might not displace the dominant libertarian journalistic orientation in Africa. However, it proposes that a hybrid form of journalistic orientation will emerge in which Western and Chinese journalistic orientations coexist on the African continent.
African Journalism Susceptible to External Influence
The education of African journalists with Western curricula has resulted in journalism professionalization that is Anglo-American in orientation and perpetuates the African media system as an appendage of the media system of the Western world (Uche, as quoted in Deuze, 2006; Hochheimer, 2001; Uche, 1991). This is evident in the “shaping of the contents and programmes in the various African national media systems which negate the philosophical base of most developing nations” (Uche, 1991, p. 15).
However, Shaw (2009, p. 505) contends African journalism is not a “direct replica of the Western liberal democracy model that places more premiums on the individual rather than the community.” Similarly, Waisbord (2015, p. 368) argues there is nothing like a single Western model of journalism. However, he contends that what is needed is to “carefully peel away layers of traditions in communication research in different settings and avoid conclusions driven by ready-made geocultural labels.”
This suggests that simply criticizing Western approaches to journalism is not sufficient for the development of an African journalism model. Instead, there is the need for an “open discussion around the need for Africans to develop their own approach to journalism and how this can be done” (McCurdy & Power, 2007, p. 145). To achieve this, Africa must extricate itself from its dependency on Western journalistic models and evolve an African model that reflects realities on the continent. This is important, because models are critical to the “execution of a system’s functions within the purview of public policy and interest, where media management is a major public area of interest” (Uche, 1991, p. 4).
A major obstacle to evolving an African journalism tradition is the quest for an acceptable theoretical foundation. This is because the prevailing theories of communication and media studies on the continent do not reflect the realities of the African people (Asante, 2012; Banda, 2008; Christians, 2004; du Plessis, 2012; Hochheimer, 2001; Kasoma, 1996; Mutere, 2012; Ngomba, 2012b; Nyamnjoh, 2015; Obonyo, 2011; Shaw, 2009; Skjerdal, 2012; Uche, 1991; Uwah, 2012).
The debate about the Africanization of communication theories is broadly defined by those who suggest there is a need to Africanize communication theories and others who contend it is difficult to agree on a uniform framework for the continent’s disparate journalistic cultures.
Several scholars have proposed diverse theoretical frameworks for evolving an African journalism model, but the harmonization of such models remains elusive. In this regard, the African moral philosophy of ubuntu has gained traction among media scholars as a framework for evolving a model for African journalism (Mutere, 2012; Skjerdal, 2012). The word ubuntu comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and translates to “a person depends on personal relations with others to exercise, develop and fulfil those capacities that make one a person. Personhood comes as a gift from other persons” (Shutte, 2001, p. 12). The debates on ubuntu as a framework for the study of media in Africa can be categorized into two broad scholarships: uncritical and critical (Tomaselli, 2016a). Much of the work on the uncritical divide of the debate homogenizes “African culture” and promotes an African exceptionalism. Within this framework, the community is privileged over the individual (Blankenberg, 1999; Fourie, 2008). Blankenberg (1999) explains that journalism must adapt to “checks and balances whereby community and their criteria of fairness is employed” rather than a sense of professionalism (p. 49).
On the other hand, Fourie (2008, p. 64) argues that the normative framework of ubuntu is reductionist in that it privileges the community over the individual in terms of freedom of expression, right of the public to know, and how the media should play their role. He emphasizes that using ubuntu as the framework in journalism may result in a kind of journalism that undermines objectivity, neutrality, and detachment, which portends dire consequences for democracy and human rights in Africa. He further points out that ubuntu resonates with European communitarianism, which according to Christians (2004, p. 235) “empowers citizens to come to an agreement about social problems and solutions among themselves rather than depending on the political elite or professional experts.” In this sense, he argues that ubuntu cannot be considered distinctively an “African way of thinking about the role and social responsibility of the media” (Fourie, 2008, p. 76). Similarly, Obonyo (2011, p. 8) contends ubuntu is limited because it represents “only one face of Africa but Africa has many faces.” In addition, Tomaselli (2016a, p. 9) acknowledges the relevance of developing theories that are suited to the lived realities of the African context but emphasizes that it is incumbent on scholars to do so without resorting to promoting an African exceptionalism.
For his part, Kasoma (1996, p. 109) proposes the notion of Afriethics, which requires journalists to “develop a deep sense of right and wrong.” This has been criticized for being “based on a more romantic reconstruction of the pre-colonial situation and a frozen view of harmony in rural Africa” (Banda, 2009b, p. 235).
According to Banda (2008, p. 79), African journalism should be underpinned by the application of “the epistemic framework of African political thought to a postcolonial understanding of contemporary African media.” This suggests a model of journalism focusing on intercultural and interpersonal communication that facilitates human communication rather than concentrating on Anglo-American definitions of press freedom (de Beer, 2010, p. 217).
Similarly, Hochheimer (2001, p. 103) proposes what he describes as a “journalism of meaning” by which “communities can create their own sense of meaning and purpose through dialogue around issues they find important.” This kind of journalism, Hochheimer explains, involves reintroducing journalists into the world as participants and not just as neutral “objective” observers (p. 103).
While not dismissing Hochheimer, Asante (2012) proposes the “ancient Egyptian ideal” of maat as a framework for communication in Africa (Asante, 2012). With this approach, the goal of communication is not to persuade but to serve as a means of solidarity for the common good (du Plessis, 2012, p. 125). Ngomba (2012b) also proposes a “culturally nested” theoretical framework for researching political campaign communication. By doing so, Ngomba argues, African scholars would apply Western paradigms of communication in the context of African realities.
Nyamnjoh (2015) takes this further and highlights the need for African journalism to be tailored to the prevailing realities in Africa. Shaw (2009, p. 493) has a different perspective, making reference to the form of pre-colonial African journalism that, in his view, stems from oral discourse, where “communication norms are informed by oral tradition and folk culture with communal storytellers (griots), musicians, poets and dancers playing the role of the modern-day journalist.”
For his part, Tomaselli (2003, p. 427) argues that Africa does not have a single culture, suggesting that most of the theoretical frameworks espoused by African scholars differ in terms of their “diverse attitude toward interventionism and cultural essentialism as constituents of journalistic discipline.”
These differences largely account for why reaching a consensus on a harmonized African journalism model remains elusive (Skjerdal, 2012, p. 648). This, Uche (1991, p. 9) argues, points to the notion that African media systems lack a “political and economic ideological base, upon which to operate, that is indigenous to their environment,” making the continent susceptible to the manipulation of “competing external values that seek to dominate and influence the attitudes and minds of the people of Africa” (see also Uche, 1991, p. 11). This suggests China’s media expansion into Africa, which subscribes to a journalism promoting “positive reporting,” could impact journalism professionalization on the African continent.
Chinese Media in Africa
The “going out” campaign of the Chinese media was launched in response to the Western media’s framing of events leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (Sun, 2010). Preparation for some of these events resulted in the deaths of several construction workers at the Bird’s Nest Stadium and, in addition to that, Steven Spielberg protested China’s position on Darfur and the Communist Party’s campaign to eradicate Falun Gong, and he also leveled allegations that Chinese media censored news of the Tibetan riots.
The perceived “anti-Chinese” coverage of these events in the Western media came to a head on 9 April 2008, when Cable News Network (CNN)’s Situation Room host, Jack Cafferty, described Chinese products as “junk” and remarked that “Chinese people were basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they’ve been for the last 50 years” (Yardley, 2008). This attracted strong condemnation from the Chinese government, and CNN was compelled to issue a public apology (“CNN apologizes,” 2008). Additionally, Chinese authorities expressed displeasure over what they saw as the Western media’s “willful determination to misunderstand China” on several issues including Tibet and Falun Gong (Sun, 2010, p. 58-59).
Sun (2010) points out that China took away two lessons from the Western media’s framing of these events. First, China’s rise to prominence as an economic and political power did not result in a more positive view of China in the international community. Rather, it has given vent to a higher level of “anxiety or even disapproval” (Sun, 2010, p. 59). Second, China realized it could not rely on the Western media to change its cynical narrative of China. The Chinese concluded it needed to be proactive by pushing Chinese perspectives into the international arena in order to contest the discursive power of the West. In the same vein, Tomaselli (2016b) articulates a “going abroad” discourse in which he acknowledged the existence of a “cultural China” framework that projects “soft power as a means of reframing China’s international image” (Tomaselli, 2016b, p. 385).
On the other hand, increasing bilateral trade between China and Africa also provides an important background to China’s media expansion, as it has been accompanied by waves of perceived “misinformation” that China was giving aid only to resources-rich countries in Africa (Brautigam, 2009, p. 3). In response, the Chinese government is eager to balance international media coverage of China’s engagement within Africa (Anshan, 2012).
In this regard, former prime minister, Wen Jiabao, urged China to extend its cultural engagement with other countries because “cultural exchanges are a bridge connecting the hearts and minds of people of all countries and an important way to project a country’s image” (Fook, 2010, p. 548-549). In order to achieve its soft power objective, Wen emphasized that Chinese media outlets going international would receive funding to enable them to “present a true picture of China to the world” (Wu, 2012, p. 6). Wu Yi, the Chinese vice-premier at the time, in 2007, remarked the program was intended to “encourage capable Chinese companies to go out as an important policy of the Chinese government” (Kurlantzick, 2007, p. 88). Consequently, China selected a few corporations to implement its “go out” policy.
These companies were provided low-interest funding, enabling them to compete well internationally. The media was not left out, and Chinese media outlets venturing internationally also received funding from the government with an aim to “present a true picture of China to the world” (Wu, 2012, p. 6). Funding was provided to both state-owned and private media “going global.”
China spends about $10 billion annually on its media internationalization project (“China Spending Billions,” 2017). Consequently, in 2006, the African regional editorial office for the Xinhua News Agency relocated from Paris to Nairobi (Gagliardone, 2013, p. 25) and commenced mobile news delivery in 2010. These developments were followed in 2011 by the establishment of China Central Television’s (CCTV) first network center outside China. This network was also headquartered in Nairobi, and the launch of the African edition of Xinhuanet, an online service of the Xinhua News Agency, followed in 2012 (Gagliardone, 2013).
China-Africa Media Cooperation
China-Africa media cooperation gained momentum between 2006 and 2007. Beginning at the 2006 FOCAC event in Beijing, Chinese and African journalists convened under the auspices of the Sino-African Cooperation Forum (SACF). Then, in 2007, a training program for French-speaking African journalists was launched at the China Media University (Wu, 2014, p. 3).
Following on these successes, an action plan for media training and exchanges was streamlined and formalized at the 2009 FOCAC event in Sharm El Sheik (Farah & Mosher, 2010; Wu, 2014). This was further consolidated at the fifth FOCAC meeting in 2012, when China proposed a “China-Africa Press Exchange Center” with a focus on developmental reporting on both sides (Wu, 2014).
In furtherance of China-Africa media relations, China trained more than 1000 African journalists and media professionals through workshops and training camps. There, African journalists were exposed to various aspects of Chinese life—political, economic, social, technological, and cultural (Banda, 2009a; Shi, 2015).
According to Banda (2009a, p. 16), these training programs are used to promote Chinese ideologies and to introduce African journalists to the Chinese media system in ways that may subvert prevailing Western journalistic traditions in Africa (Banda, 2009a, p. 16). To what extent these training programs may have been used to subtly or overtly promote specific Chinese journalistic traditions among African journalists remains debatable.
Hierarchy of Influences—Ideological Level
The ideological level is the most powerful “level of analysis” in the Shoemaker and Reese (1996) hierarchy of influences model. The ideological level is the sum total of all the other levels in the hierarchy of influences. This is because “all the processes taking place at lower levels are considered to be working toward an ideologically related pattern of messages and on behalf of the higher power centers in society” (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996, p. 223).
This level is concerned with “how the media build[s] consensus and consent” (Hall, 1982, p. 86) in the interest of power in society (Reese, 2001, p. 183). Implicitly, this means each of the various levels could result in a particular ideological position: The ideological motivation prompting China’s media expansion into Africa is to counteract the Western media framing of China-Africa relations and evolve a new model of journalism underpinned by “positive reporting” in which the media’s role is to collaborate with government (Banda, 2009a; Farah & Mosher, 2010; Gagliardone, 2013; Harber, 2013; Wekesa, 2013).
This motivation is linked to the geopolitical contest between China and the West—the US and its allies—where China seeks to countervail the dominance of the Anglo-American journalism model in the African mediasphere by exporting its own journalism model to the continent (Banda, 2009a; Farah & Mosher, 2010).
The Ideologization Debate
The possible impact of Chinese media expansion into the African continent and into journalism professionalization in Africa are the subjects of ongoing debate. This is because different orientations of journalism have emerged in Africa and China. Chinese journalism is characterized by top-down reporting and collaboration between the press and government. The libertarian-democratic tradition promotes a bottom-up/watchdog approach and is dominant in Africa (Umejei & Hall, 2013).
It was highlighted by some African journalism educators that Chinese media investment and ownership “brings a kind of top-down style of Chinese journalism and [it] can inhibit the progress we have made in this continent developing an open bottom-up style of investigative journalism” (Umejei & Hall, 2013).
There are also concerns that Chinese media investments could negatively affect the freedom of journalists to perform their professional roles (Keita, 2012; Wasserman, 2013). Banda (2009a, p. 356) actually argues that Chinese media involvement in Africa is part of a grand strategy to promote Chinese culture in the African media space.
However, Gagliardone (2013, p. 27-28) contends that fears this will lead to the supplanting of Western journalistic models in African are “largely based on assumptions.” He suggests that even though China does not promote its own model of journalism, the outcome of its media expansion into Africa might achieve the same result as that of the West. In the same vein, Wekesa (2013, p. 71) argues that increased contact between the Chinese and African media will provide a different way of approaching Chinese issues and topics from a model where African content producers receive information from Western or Chinese sources. However, he adds the impact of Chinese media expansion would be remote, based upon the colonial legacy of libertarian journalistic orientation in Africa.
Ngomba (2012a, p. 12) argues differently, stating that although sub-Saharan media systems are in flux at the moment, “we are not on the cusp of witnessing a ‘transplantation’ of the Chinese model of media development to sub-Saharan Africa.” He argues further that China’s media engagement with Africa may result in socializing Chinese journalists in the African model of journalism rather than corrupting it. This view, however, fails to acknowledge the fact that Africa does not have an existing single journalism model into which Chinese journalists may be socialized (Skjerdal, 2012, p. 648).
This point is highlighted in a study showing there is no evidence of the influence of Chinese “soft power” on editorial agendas and journalism professionalization among South African journalists. Wasserman (2014) sent 10 questions to journalists working in print, online, broadcast, and wire services in South Africa. He concluded, “China’s state control of the media and bias toward official views discredits it in the eyes of South African journalists” (Wasserman, 2014, p. 14).
One of the respondents stated, “It is way too early to panic about a potential negative influence of Chinese media on South African journalism” (Wasserman, 2014, p. 11). However, Wassermann’s study was not limited to African journalists who have been socialized in Chinese media.
Gagliardone (2013), Marsh (2016), and Lefkowitz (2017) have each focused on the micro aspect of Chinese media organizations based in Africa. While Gagliardone’s (2013) study pointed out the possibility of Chinese journalism culture taking root in Africa, it was limited to CCTV (CGTN). Similarly, Marsh (2016) and Lefkowitz (2017) were limited to CCTV (CGTN). On the other hand, this study provides empirical evidence about the impact of Chinese media on African journalists who have socialized in Chinese media across three Chinese media organizations in Africa, including CCTV (CGTN), Xinhua, and the China Daily newspaper.
Is Chinese Media Constructive Journalism?
Yanqiu (2014) and Yanqiu and Matingwina (2016a, 2016b) contend that the practice of journalism in Chinese media organizations based in Africa can be best understood through the lens of constructive journalism. Yanqiu (2014) points out that the concept of constructive journalism “differs from the traditional Western journalism approach which places emphasis on negative reporting.” She emphasizes that “constructive journalism of China’s media covers positive and solution-focused news within classical reporting” (Yanqiu, 2014, p. 9). However, Zhang (2013) and Marsh (2016) have shown there are no clear differences between Chinese media and Western media framing of African realities. In her analysis of CCTV’s Africa Live, Zhang (2013) concluded that “no substantial content is to be found in state media discourse which offers an alternative to the West” (Zhang, 2013, p. 99). This result was corroborated by Marsh (2016) in her comparative analysis of CCTV’s Africa Live and BBC’s Focus on Africa that determined there is a “general absence of a preference for “positive news” about Africa on CCTV’s Africa Live.”
The development journalism variant of reporting has gained traction in Asian and other non-Western democracies around the world. This model gained international prominence at the 1987 Asian-Pacific Conference of the International Federation of Journalists in Hong Kong, when journalists from the region declared their support for development journalism, which is underscored by collaboration between the press and government (Xiaoge, 2009, p. 361). In these climes, the idea that the role of the media is to support national development is privileged and encouraged by national governments. Development journalism does not seem to align with the Western watchdog role of the press because it is perceived as “inadequate for developing countries in Asia” (Xiaoge, 2009, p. 360). Xiaoge (2009) identifies three variants of development journalism, including pro-process, pro-participation, and pro-government. The domestic media in China promotes the pro-government variant of development journalism, which is concerned with the “advocacy of a cooperative role for the press in nation building and national development and the role of the press as a catalyst for social and political change” (Xiaoge, 2009, p. 364). In China, development journalism is embedded in journalism training, education, and practice with a view to enhancing national development and economic rejuvenation (Xiaoge, 2009). This also influences gatekeeping in Chinese media organizations. For instance, while gatekeeping in the libertarian tradition is premised on “news values” such as prominence/importance, human interest, conflict/controversy, the unusual, timeliness, and proximity (Allan, 2004, p. 57), it is more likely that a different type of “news value” promoting group orientation, filial piety, hard work, and placing community or nation above individuals will be at work in the Chinese media (See Xiaoge, 2005, p. 2). This is consistent with the view that news values may not be universal, especially in the context of professionally produced variations found in and across different news forms (Cottle, 2000, p. 21). Therefore, the news values that Chinese media organizations promote in Africa may differ from those of the libertarian media, which would hold consequences for journalism professionalization on the African continent.
The study employs a qualitative research design that involves semi-structured interviews with African journalists working in Chinese media organizations based in Africa (CCTV, now rebranded CGTN; Xinhua News Agency; and the China Daily newspaper). Journalists selected for interview can be grouped into three broad categories: early career journalists who commenced their careers in the Chinese media; mid-career journalists who began their careers in the local media or elsewhere; and senior journalists holding editorial leadership positions in Chinese media.
A total of 29 journalists from CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, and the China Daily newspaper were interviewed in Nairobi, Kenya. Among these, three were former employees of CCTV, 12 were current employees of CCTV, 11 were journalists at Xinhua, and three were journalists at China Daily. Among these, only two were Chinese nationals. The Chinese journalists, who are among the editorial leadership of the Chinese media organizations, were interviewed to validate responses from African journalists. The interview sessions lasted between 30 minutes and one hour. Additionally, this researcher negotiated a confidentiality and anonymity agreement with the interviewees. Hence, all responses were coded and, rather than interviewee’s names, only codes are reported.
Chinese media organizations based in Africa promote “positive reporting” as an editorial policy. The idea of “positive reporting” has its origin in China’s attempt to frame an alternative narrative of China-Africa relations that differs from Western media framing of its engagement with Africa. This policy is firmly rooted in the Chinese media system. Therein, the media serve as the mouthpiece of government (see Zhao, 2012). The domestic media in China are expected to positively frame government-related activities even when it contravenes widely held journalistic ethos (see Zhao, 2012). Consequently, there is an attempt to socialize African journalists working within Chinese media organizations based in Africa into “positive reporting.”
An editor for one of the Chinese media organizations in Kenya explained the motive of Chinese media expansion into Africa:
We report the positive side. That is what we focus on, including the local politics and economy. We just don’t want to highlight the bad side. You know, sometimes, the Western media, they just want to use some bad story, [they] may distort the truth story to make it more catchy, but that is not what we do. We want to report it more objectively. There is enough bad news in the world already. But in a country like Somalia, we report the positive side of Somalia. I have interviewed the president for more than seven times. Like the economy is returning to normal and the security is improving. (Xinhua 5, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
In order to achieve this ambition, Chinese media organizations in Africa promote a journalism professionalization that leans toward the state. This can be deduced from the editorial decision-making process, recruitment, routines, organizational structure, and goals, as well as the newsroom culture of African journalists working in Chinese media in Kenya.
Therefore, China is interested in exporting a paradigm of journalism that differs from the dominant libertarian journalistic orientation in Africa. This senior Xinhua journalist said the goal of the Chinese media is to replace the Western model of journalism in Africa:
So the Chinese bosses want all activities in Africa to be reported positively, and they want to replace the Western model of journalism with their own model. So they are trying to paint Africa in a very positive way. (Xinhua 1, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
However, there are some African journalists who think positive reporting is not entirely a bad idea for the African continent when measured against the magnitude of negative reporting the continent has received in the past (Golan, 2008, p. 54; Brookes, 1995, p. 488). This senior journalist with CCTV said positive stories are good for Africa:
Unfortunately, in the world that we are living at the moment, bad news sells, and that is the way it has always been. That is what draws people to the screen and to the social media. I think positive stories are very important, especially on the African continent, because there is a very negative perception of the continent, and this tag, “the third world,” does not help either. However, I also believe that you should not deliberately ignore negative stories just for positive because you can cover all the positive stories yet put aside people [who] are dying from disease, war, and you cannot ignore that. I mean, that is one of the reasons I said as journalists, you are also a voice for the voiceless. Somebody has got to tell the world what is going on and provide the information. (CCTV 3, personal communication, 28 March 2016)
However, other journalists disagree about Africa needing positive reporting, because, in their views, African leaders are more responsive to criticism than propaganda. This senior journalist with Xinhua said the only way for the media to bring about change in Africa is by highlighting the ills of leadership on the continent:
They tend to say they are objective because they are not criticizing the government, but I think African governments must be criticized to change. We have seen this criticism in various international media houses help to change the narrative on the ground, and I don’t believe just praising the African governments will endear them to the people because the government doesn’t read newspapers. It is the people that read newspapers. So I think they will need to endear themselves more to the people by reporting things that matter to the people. (Xinhua 3, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
Limits of Positive Reporting
However, there is a limit to positive reporting in Chinese media organizations based in Africa. African journalists have observed there seems to be a limit to positive reporting when covering the activities of the US, the UK, and Japanese governments. The gatekeeping on stories concerning these governments seems to be more critical than other stories. This senior journalist with Xinhua explained that even if such a story is newsworthy, it would almost be “killed” by the Chinese editors:
For example, if you want to report on [the] US, German[y], Japan, we cannot report about what they do positively because they will think we are a state media and we are doing public relations for them. The story might be very interesting. For example, the US donated a certain amount of money for peacekeeping in Africa. Another editor might see it as PR and China carrying PR for another country, they don’t like it. (CCTV 11, personal communication, 28 March 2016)
Chinese vs Western Journalism
Responses from interviews suggest some African journalists are keen on keeping the journalistic orientation they have acquired in Chinese media, while others would prefer to uphold the libertarian journalistic orientation. However, a significant trend has emerged from the interview responses. This suggests early career journalists, who commenced their journalistic career in the Chinese media, are willing to uphold Chinese journalistic ideals when they transit to the local media space. One early career journalist at CCTV said she would like to continue with positive reporting:
I would want to continue with positive reporting but also given what is exact. What I have been taught in the university is not far much from what I am doing now. Both can work together, but the positive reporting is what I believe journalism needs to adopt now. (CCTV 2, personal communication, 28 March 2016)
This mid-career Xinhua journalist said while he would like to return to the libertarian journalistic orientation, he believes the Chinese model is also good:
If I leave here, actually, I will want to follow the other way—[the] Western model—but I still believe the Chinese model is a good system, but we need to put more structures. Like, we should be able to enjoy freedom to work as journalists. (Xinhua 2, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
This mid-career China Daily journalist said she does not think Chinese journalism orientation is good for Africa because it would make African leaders irresponsible in providing good governance:
I don’t think the Chinese journalism model is more suited to Africa unless I have actually been Westernized. For a difference to be made in Africa, I think putting it all positive makes our leaders think they are really doing a lot, while they are not. We are not putting them into account and the kind of policy issues that will really benefit Africa. By us just highlighting the positive, I think we are putting them in a comfort zone that should not be there. I think we should also put them to account and really dig into the challenges that are there, which sometimes, we don’t. (China Daily 1, personal communication, 9 March 2016)
For this senior Xinhua journalist, it is possible for Chinese journalistic orientation to take root in Africa because there are some UN agencies that are only covered by Chinese media in Kenya:
It is very possible for Chinese journalism orientation to catch on in Africa because we are not only interested in conflicts like the Western media. For example, there are some stories from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that are only covered by Xinhua. We are also very prominent in covering the UN Habitat. In fact, there are certain organizations that if we are not present at their press conferences, they will wait for us to come. These Western media are looking for where there is insecurity, trouble spots, but for us, we want to highlight both positive and the negative. (Xinhua 1, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
The significant numbers of senior Africa journalists who said they would like to continue with Chinese journalistic orientations even if they were to exit to the local media is significant. One senior journalist with Xinhua said that the Chinese journalism model is better than the libertarian journalistic orientation because the Chinese journalism culture is developmental in orientation: “The Western journalism is more confrontational and basically does not give facts” (Xinhua 1, personal communication, 14 March 2016).
This mid-career CCTV journalist said that the Chinese media has not had any impact on his libertarian journalistic orientation and he would continue to uphold the Western journalistic orientation if he leaves CCTV:
Well, it is a journalism that is government-centered. I see a lot of similarity between the Chinese journalism and the Kenyan government journalism. It involves a lot of hierarchy. You need to consult a lot, but fortunately, it has not impacted me. I understand from their end, especially people who really cover politics and stuff, but it has not really affected me. (CCTV 7, personal communication, 14 March 2016)
This senior CCTV journalist anticipates that Chinese media organizations based in Africa should adopt the African journalistic orientation, which is modeled on the Western orientation of journalism:
What I can hope for is for the culture to change and adapt to the African, which is more modeled on the Western one, because I think at the end of the day, in terms of where we reach in terms of economic and political development, we want to ask questions and we want answers. (CCTV 2, personal communication, 28 March 2016)
However, a senior editor with CCTV said there is a place for “positive reporting” in the African media system:
I will be a better person because one of the reasons I agreed to work with Chinese media, which was completely new to me, was to see this new thinking. After CCTV, I believe there is a place for positive stories, because if you are going to inform the public, you must give them all the information, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. (CCTV 9, personal communication, 28 March 2016).
This senior African editor, who has worked for both an international Western media and the local media in Kenya, emphasized the kind of journalistic orientation that would emerge on the African continent would be a blend of the Western and the Chinese:
What African journalism is going to be is a blend of both Chinese and Western journalism professionalization. Africa has moved, and the Chinese model thrives on stiffening and not releasing everything out there. So it is like partial control. but I think the Africans have evolved. Even as a professional, you would want to be more freely divorced of economic and commercial interests. There is also some kind of African patriotism that is getting into journalism in the sense that you are looking at a situation that, as we do that value addition, as we criticize, we also look at the situation of how best we can make the environment better. That is why I say there is going to be a blend of both—Chinese and Western journalism professionalization. I am convinced that a blend of both will probably work better for the continent as it tries to find its position in the global order. (CCTV 6, personal communication, 28 March 2016)
Discussion and Conclusion
This study examined the ideological motivation of Chinese media expansion into Africa through the lenses of African journalists who have been socialized in Chinese media. The ideological motivation of China’s media expansion into Africa could be best explained through the prism of a new world order in which there is a “clash of civilizations” (see Huntington, 1993) between China and the US and its allies for the dominance of global politics. While journalism professionalization has been predominantly informed by a libertarian-democratic ideal, China wants its own fair share of journalism professionalization exported to the world, and Africa represents a viable learning curve for this endeavor. This suggests China’s media expansion into Africa is underpinned by an ideological motivation about promoting Chinese journalistic orientation, which is different from the libertarian ideal. The fact that the African media systems lack an ideological base leaves the continent susceptible to China’s influence (see Uche, 1991).
The findings of this study suggest that that Chinese media expansion into Africa might not displace the dominant liberal model of journalism. This is informed by the mixed responses from both early and senior career African journalists working in Chinese media on the influence of Chinese media on journalism professionalization on the African continent. However, the findings of this study suggest that Chinese media expansion in Africa would result in a hybridization form of journalistic orientation on the African continent. The import of this is that both Chinese and Western journalistic traditions would coexist on the African continent.
Limitations and Future Research
While this study focused on CCTV, Xinhua, and the China Daily newspaper, it did not extend to China Radio International (CRI), which would have added more nuances to this research. However, the fact that the study cuts across print, electronic, and news agency may accommodate this limitation.
On the other hand, this study provides a point of departure for other researchers to examine the kind of journalism that is being promoted by other state-led media organizations based in Africa, such as Aljazeera, Russia Today, and Press TV. Other researchers could also compare journalism professionalization in Chinese media organizations and Aljazeera or Russia Today. This could provide an insight into the diverse forms of journalism that are being promoted by different state-led media organizations based in Africa.