China’s media investments in Africa stay in the news

May 21, 2012

Just a few months after the announcement about a new CCTV African service and the opening of Beijing Review‘s Johannesburg bureau, it is China Daily‘s turn to start an African edition, beginning with a Johannesburg office with one in Nairobi planned. CCTV has recently opened a new New York operation, while China Daily — China’s original officially-desoignated foreign-language paper that has recently undergone a big makeover to make it more readable and credible in the eyes of foreign readers, e.g. by printing critical articles and inviting well-known foreigners to publish op-ed pieces — is now distributed as a weekly advertising supplement of the International Herald Tribune in parts of Europe.

All this is perfectly in sync with the Chinese government’s recent “opinion” on expanding Chinese media abroad, which calls for a comprehensive global media network with  coverage that will “centre on developed and neighbouring countries”  but “use developing countries as a[n intial] base.” (It should also  “rely on the Chinese-language overseas market,” one in which investment from China started earlier but is off Western radar screens.

I am usually tired of the widespread view that takes every Chinese investment in Africa as part of a master plan by the Chinese government. But in this case, where the actors are all centrally controlled state enterprises, there is no doubt that their goal is to satisfy government officials (a nd beat each other to it).

The news have triggered a round of commentary by Mohamed Keita in the New York Times, Deborah Brautigam, Li Anshan on Pambazuka, and Bob Wekesa in China Daily itself, among others, andaddressing a variety of issues — is media freedom an absolute good (no, say Li and Wekesa); does it really existin the West or is it in fact just an ideolgical ploy (the latter, sayWekesa andLi); is  China’s goal to help African governments limit media freedom (no, says Brautigam); is that the net result of Chinese investment anyway? (It can be, say I, at least insofar as a Chinese model of a state-financed public television with an overt mission to support the government no longer necessarily looks outdated and embarrassing, and protestations to the contrary are no longer de rigeur. Considering Ethiopia is one of countries with the least free media, the Ethiopian news agency’s plans to launch a multilingual 24-hour news channel is probably inspired by Xinhua ‘s CNT or Russia Today rather than BBC or Al Jazeera.)

For me, the most intriguing question is whether the new cohort of young Chinese journalists around the world — and the young African and other journalists that Chinese money will train and employ — will, quite apart from their employers intentions, pursue their own investigative agendas and generate a more complex picture of the world, in China and elsewhere. The Party line in China is that the current effortis to generate a more balanced view (that is in English publications; Chinese-language  communiques usually frankly speak about a more favourable view of China). I don’t believe that this is really the intention of the Chinese government, but it may nonetheless be an unintended result as more young Chinese begin reporting on the globe.

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China issues “opinion” on media’s foreign expansion

March 4, 2012

The General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP, 新闻出版总署) has issued “Some opinions on accelerating the expansion of our country’s news media and publishing industry abroad” (关于我国新闻出版业走出去的若干意见). Such “opinions” are in effect binding decrees on a particular policy issue.

The “Opinions” reaffirm the goal of “creating a group of powerful, internationally competitive ‘dragonhead’ corporations for expansion abroad” and “educating a cohort of media and publishing talent that can operate toward the outsideat a high level (外向型高层次的).”Specifically, by 2015, there should be 100 thousand “internationalised news media and publishing personnel.”

The aim is to develop a differentiated, localised media network with comprehensive coverage that will “centre on developed and neighbouring countries”  but “use developing countries as a base” and “rely on the Chinese-language overseas market,” presumably in the initial stages. This is to be accomplished by a mix of means: setting up branches and offices, newspapers and magazines abroad, as well as through direct and indirect investment.

Various incentives are available to accomplish this: export credits, concessional loans, targeted subsidies, bonuses, and insurance subsidies (probably available across sectors) can be applied for up to 50% of the costs of overseas brand acquisitions, but small and medium enterprises from Central and Western China and the Northeastern rust belt can apply for up to 70%. “Market exploration” projects in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central and Southeast Asia enjoy priority and can also get up to 70% in various subsidies. Sector-specific subsidies are also available for the translation and publication in foreign languages of works promoting socialism, popularising China’s achievements and Chinese culture.

The document also lists specific measures. These include supporting the publication of foreign-language periodicals and publications, including those by joint ventures or private companies. (This may be somewhat unusual, as private publishers officially do not exist in China; they are obliged to purchase ISBNs from state publishers and go through the latter’s vetting procedures.) Also, the evaluations of high-level managers of state media will henceforth consider how successful they have been in expanding abroad.

The expansion of Chinese-generated content that can be linked to “soft power” aspirations is not the sole concern of the “Opinions:” they also outline measures to reward printing companies that are successful in getting overseas orders and to promote the overseas sales of online games and the export of “cultural labour” (perhaps dancers and acrobats).


Xinhua and CCTV launch satellite TV in Africa

November 26, 2011

China Central Television (CCTV) plans to launch an English and Swahili service for Africa, competing with CNC TV, a worldwide network launched by the Xinhua news agency (which does not have a domestic television channel in China).

According to a source quoted by a Kenyan news portal, Jackal News, “CNC TV became the most watched TV station in the Asia continent mostly [for] the Africa stories.” A source that spouts such nonsense is hardly worth much (it is in fact impossible to ascertain from CNC’s website when they have launched their services and where they are available), but Jackal News confidently asserts that “CNC TV is planning to start poaching employees from both local and international stations.”

A South African news site, meanwhile, reported that CCTV “has launched the biggest raid on personnel across Kenyan TV newsrooms … as the station prepares for its launch in December. “Top editors of what will be the Kenyan office and continental satellite studio for the Chinese have already been trained in Beijing and are preparing for what is being described as a ‘transformation of international TV experience.'”

Al-Jazeera is also launching a Swahili service and “poaching” journalists from Kenyan stations.

Semi-official Chinese commentators have long been saying that Western influence on media in Africa (and more recently Burma) is a key obstacle to a better image of China. The expansion of Chinese media overseas has been set by the government as a goal to serve the growth of China’s “soft power.” Li Qiangmin, the current Chinese envoy to the Southeast African Common Market and a senior diplomat, recently said in an interview that Africa’s “misunderstanding” of China is largely because of the “demonisation” in Western media and the absence of Chinese media from the continent. Since the failure of the Southern Media Group, which has a liberal reputation and has recently been attacked by nationalists in China, to buy Newsweek in 2010, however, this expansion has mostly been proceeding in Chinese-language media.

According to a Tanzanian news site, the Chinese government has also “expressed interest to establish an FM radio that will use Chinese and Kiswahili languages as a symbol of friendship with Tanzania.” Li Wei, the Vice-Minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), who made this announcement, said that “the first step we took is to translate a Chinese play into Kiswahili which is called Doudou.”