Thursday, February 16, 2017

Boosting China-Africa Media Cooperation
February 16, 2017
Opinion & Analysis
Lovemore Chikova
Zimbabwe Herald

This week’s instalment is a presentation I made last year at a China-Africa Media Cooperation Conference in Beijing, China, organised by the China Investment Magazine.

The conference was meant to explore the need for more cooperation between Chinese and African media and how that cooperation could be strengthened.

It was attended by Chinese government officials, African journalists working in Beijing, Chinese journalists, professors and lecturers.

In recent years, China has taken much interest in investing in Africa, especially through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.

As a result of that, many of the biggest projects taking place across Africa in various sectors are spearheaded by the Chinese government and Chinese firms.

This economic cooperation comes on the basis of the political cooperation that has been the hallmark of China-Africa relations since African countries started fighting for independence.

But it should not be forgotten that with such success, especially of the economic cooperation between China and Africa, also comes competing voices from other quarters.

A perusal of the media in its various forms clearly shows there are powerful countries which have been unsettled by progress being made through cooperation between China and Africa.

The media has overnight become the major tool deployed against this type of progressive cooperation.

It is common now to get headlines in Western media such as “Why China is trying to colonise Africa” (David Blair, British Telegraph, 2007).

Just as early as January this year (2016), a British Online publication, CAPX, had a headline: “China buys its first African colony for a meagre $40 million”.

This was in reference to a deal in which China indicated it was cancelling a $40 million debt owed by Zimbabwe.

There are many other headlines and stories from across the media in Western countries aimed at denigrating the cooperation between China and Africa.

Sometimes such media always tell their African audiences that everything that comes from China is bad and substandard – that the technology is bad, the architecture is bad and the people, the Chinese themselves, are equally bad.

The question to ask now is: Has China-Africa media cooperation been effective in telling the true story on the cooperation between the two sides?

If so, why do we have many among Africans still believing such stories about China and Africa, which are pure Western propaganda?

My opinion is that while media cooperation exists between China and Africa, it needs further improvement to debunk some of the stereotypes characterising relations between the two sides.

China has been investing heavily in Africa of late and the projects are being undertaken in communities which have already been bombarded with negative information about the Asian country.

In some African communities, if a Chinese firm comes to construct a bridge, the dominant discussion among the locals will be on how long the bridge will last.

The view that Chinese construction is not up to scratch and that the architecture is not good has been somehow entrenched, often without evidence.

Many Africans might not be aware that China is a construction giant.

They have, of course, not heard of the 41,58-kilometre Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in Shandong province, which is listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s longest bridge over water.

They have not heard about so many towers that dominate the skies of Chinese cities; they have not heard also about the country’s railway line and the road networks.

With a strong media cooperation between China and Africa, it will be easy to convey the necessary information to the people for them to make their own decisions when confronted with other sources of information.

The major issue confronting China-Africa media cooperation now is how to do away with the traditional reliance, especially for African countries, on Western media as the major source of information.

Platforms like the Forum for China-Africa Media Cooperation, whose third edition was held in Beijing in June this year (2016) should be more useful in capacitating African media through joint ventures, training and project funding.

Increased cooperation between Chinese and African media will help in promoting an alternative model of international relations driven by win-win cooperation, equality among nations and peace and justice.

These are the ideals conducive to formulating a new era in South-South cooperation being driven by China and replicated in its mutual cooperation with African countries.

Chinese media is beginning to establish its roots in Africa, sending more journalists to the continent and establishing bureaus.

Ways should be found for African media houses to open offices in China to enable them to effectively report on the country to their audiences back home.

The China-Africa Press Centre comes nearer to fulfilling this dream, as it has been enrolling journalists to work and study in China for the past three years.

Many of us attached to the 2016 China-Africa Press Centre have learnt a lot about working in a foreign land.

Lessons should be drawn from the press centre and a proper study should be undertaken on how the centre has influenced the coverage of China in African media over the past three years.

Those lessons can be used to model a kind of media cooperation that will ensure African media are able to set up permanent offices in China.

Many African countries are facing difficulties with implementing digitisation.

It is important that China is playing a major role in aiding such countries with migration from analogue to digital terrestrial television.

I know Startimes and Huawei Technologies are some of the Chinese firms involved in such projects in Africa.

The existing media cooperation should also cover production of content in anticipation of the opening up of the airwaves due to digitisation.

The cooperation can include exchange of ideas, training of content developers and financial backing to enable more content to be produced by African broadcasters.

Sharing of content across all platforms should be considered as a matter of urgency and Chinese and African media houses should be encouraged to establish cooperation agreements to exchange such content.

Media exchanges through training, workshops, seminars and familiarisation visits, which have been taking place between China and Africa, should be intensified.

As I am speaking, there are 15 editors and reporters from across the media houses in Zimbabwe on a three-week seminar in Beijing.

Such cooperation needs to be sustained to help enhance understanding of China among African journalists.

There is no doubt that if handled well, media cooperation can be an effective bridge of communication between China and Africa, to benefit mutual cooperation between the two sides.

It is time that Chinese and African voices are heard, but this cannot happen naturally as it calls for deliberate efforts from both sides to enhance media cooperation.

While political and economic cooperation are being propelled to the highest level, it seems media cooperation has been lagging.

Cooperation between the Chinese and African media should be treated with equal importance.

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