AFRICA: China Launches Media Offensive in Emerging Continent

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By Taro Ichikawa

China is not only strengthening economic and financial ties with the countries of Africa, but has also launched a strong bid for media cooperation, which is considered a significant component of overall relations.
"Although geographically far apart, China and Africa have long learned about each other through the Western media. But Western reports did not always reflect the truth. Therefore, it is necessary for the two media communities to establish direct links," Xinhua news agency quoted the country's top publicity administrator Li Changchun as saying.

Li, who is a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), took part in a seminar in Nairobi on April 21, 2011 with members of Chinese and African media communities to explore ways of boosting China-African journalistic exchanges.

Li proposed several ways what the Chinese media could do to facilitate cooperation with their African counterparts.

While the Chinese government had already incorporated China-Africa media cooperation into their overall relationship, he said, Chinese and African media should cover each other's social and economic developments and other issues in a comprehensive and "truthful" way.

Stressing the need for the media to contribute to the countries' mutual understanding and friendship, Li encouraged media organisations from China and Africa to build partnerships to push forward resource sharing, promote training, exchange broadcasting programmes and increase technology transfer.

Li said China has provided training for 208 African reporters and media administrators since 2004, and that intended to continue offering African media organisations technological support and training opportunities.

The senior Chinese official also encouraged African media outlets to open newsrooms in China and provide live news coverage from the country.

Li pointed out that since the 1950s, the Chinese media organisations have conducted frequent exchanges with their African counterparts through seminars and workshops, and donated equipment such as computers and cameras.

At a summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2006, President Hu Jintao and leaders from 48 African nations pledged to encourage more media exchanges over the following decade.

Media cooperation between China and Africa has not only developed in traditional areas, but is also tapping potential in the field of new media, Li was quoted as saying.

While in Kenya, he inaugurated the Xinhua Mobile Newspaper, the first-ever mobile newspaper in sub-Saharan Africa. The joint venture with a local telecom company is expected to enable about 17 million Kenyan mobile subscribers to receive news from China's Xinhua News Agency via Multimedia Messaging Service.

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While welcoming China-Africa media cooperation, Bob Wekesa, editorial director of Kenya Today said that Chinese journalists have yet to catch up with their Western counterparts in Africa, even though they have made substantial progress.

Xinhua writers Liu Chang and Shang Xuqian say, over the past decade, China and Africa have done much to expand their trade ties. China-Africa trade in 2000 stood at 10 billion U.S. dollars. The figure skyrocketed to 126.9 billion dollars in 2010, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Nonetheless, compared to surging trade links, media cooperation between China and Africa has been advancing at a slower pace.

Ridwan Laher, head of South Africa's African Institute, said China's rapidly growing economy and presence in Africa have increased his country's need for news about China.

In view of the Western media's dominant position, average African readers get their news about China from Western news coverage. But many Africans have started to realise that they are consuming too much Western news and too little from their own national media organizations or from China, African participants in the Nairobi seminar observed.

Kabareng Solomon, director of Botswana's Information Services Department, said Botswana had been relying on Western media for a long time. "We know it is not good to accept a one-sided perspective," she said.

Solomon said her country's Daily News and Botswana Press Agency have signed agreements with Xinhua in order to gain a different perspective about Africa, China and the rest of the world.

Maina Muiruri, managing editor of the Kenyan newspaper The People, said that compared with Western news agencies, Chinese media reports on Africa were more comprehensive, objective and accurate.
Meanwhile, he hoped Chinese media could provide more information about China's enterprises, especially those that have business ties with the African continent.

Lydia Shiloya, deputy head of Kenya News Agency, said China-Africa media cooperation could improve by hiring more locals. "Chinese media in the future could have more local people work for them who better understand the local scenario and could better serve the grassroots in Africa," Shiloya said.

Building a permanent media exchange mechanism is also what both sides expect in the future.

Kwendo Opanga, editorial director of the Nairobi-based Diplomat East Africa Magazine, said China and Africa should expand and institutionalise journalistic exchange programmes. He also said Africa expects to learn from China's media technological advances.

Li maintained that the traditional friendship between China and Africa had created favourable conditions for closer media cooperation in the future.

With joint efforts, it is hoped that China-Africa media cooperation can provide the missing pieces of the puzzle when it comes to presenting readers with the real picture.

The backdrop to emerging media cooperation is that for more than 150 years, global information has been flowing in a direction opposite to that of wealth: not from the poor to the rich but from the rich to the poor.

"For decades, developing countries have fought what appeared to be a losing battle against Western dominance in global information flow. Thanks to the epochal rise of the developing world, a rebalancing is hopefully taking place," observed the Chinese official new agency Xinhua.

"That change is setting the stage for China and Africa to have their voices heard and tell the true stories happening in their parts of the world," it added.

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