The way Western media reports news on Africa and the way China does it are two extremes. Western media is obsessed with highlighting Africa problems and afflictions, while Chinese media thrusts itself in a positive light, reporting positively about Africa.
This becomes more palpable where Chinese media reports on developments in Africa implicating China. Chinese media hardly speaks anything negative about China on the country's presence in Africa. Everything that China does in Africa is portrayed in a favourable manner. It's as if China is the saviour of the African continent in terms of developmental issues.
China's news about Africa focuses more on the positive, for example the large Chinese-owned garment factory in Rwanda employing hundreds of people, or the or the Chinese-built railway in Ethiopia making life easy for business owners and travellers. These are the sorts of stories mainly carried by Xinhua, China's state-run media house.
Forget about the ulterior motives that China may allegedly harbour as regards their presence in Africa. Forget about accusations of the Chinese only being in Africa for cheap labour. According to Chinese media, all of this is non-existent. The narrative on China in Africa is shaped in such a way that Africans are getting increasingly sympathetic to China, seeing China as their ally, seeing China as the best agent for change in Africa.
Emeka Umejei, who is a research associate in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, told the Voice of America that in Chinese media, "what comes across is the government's interests." Umejei said that Chinese news outlets do not perpetuate outright disinformation, but where China is implicated in the African narrative, it has to be told positively.
This creates a problem of whether it still remains normal,good reporting or propaganda. In a significant way, perceptions on China, and the Communist Party in China are changed. Hence, the problem of propaganda presents itself. China's existence has been synonymous with the word propaganda. The difference between Western media and Chinese media is that where Western media is fixated on the problems in Africa like corruption, bad governance and conflicts, Chinese media focuses on the positive things in Africa.
Chinese media will not tell you the other side of the story. A good example on this is the Kenyan Standard Gauge Railway, a transport/infrastructural project financed, built and managed by China. The negative impacts on the wildlife and the workers are not revealed by Chinese media. There have been alleged reports by Kenyan media of mistreatment of workers, but this is not covered in Chinese media at all. It is deliberately and conveniently not mentioned.
Perceptions on China by Africans are changing, proving that the strategy of Chinese media is reaping some fruits. Afrobarometer revealed in 2016 that about two-thirds of Africans view China's influence as "somewhat" to "very positive". That, right there, is a clear indication of how China's media is changing perceptions about China. China have moved from being the villain to being the most-trusted ally. more African countries now see China — not the U.S. — as the biggest foreign influence.
Xinhua has been on the forefront of this drive, being well-managed and funded by the state. It's archaic propaganda mode has been dropped, but it still serves the interests of the Chinese Communist Party, with a strong focus on generating income by creating content for worldwide audiences. China Central Television (CCTV) is also another dominant Chinese media outlet.
Chinese media is not accustomed to "investigative journalism". It means they are never concerned about the multi-facets of a story. They blatantly disregard that. It creates room to tell the story as it is, and being the drivers of propaganda, they do it well. According to Umejei, China has taken a "win-win" media strategy that puts both Africa and China in a positive light. The strategy is working, apparently.
With investigative reporting not allowed in China, it means leaders are not held accountable. This is not favourable for the African context, as the culture of impunity will thrive if the other side of the story is not told. Investigative reporting must be there for Africa.
But where Western media focuses on the negative, Chinese media focuses on the positive. In doing that, the line between ordinary, fair reporting and propaganda becomes very thin.
Header image credit: (Voice of America)