China’s Positive Spin on Africa

Last week, the English-language China Daily newspaper launched its Africa edition in order to break a perceived western monopoly in Africa-related journalism. From Harry Verhoeven and Iginio Gagliardone at CNN:

As was highlighted at a recent conference at Oxford University, Chinese news media are seeking to compete with players such as CNN and Al Jazeera, but they are rolling out what they claim is a different approach to journalism. What Chinese media are offering to Africa is “positive reporting,” a style of journalism that focuses on collective achievements rather than divisive issues like political crises or sensational negative news like famines.

[…] The Africa of today, while still consumed by many intractable problems, is no longer the Africa of the 1990s: Millions of Africans are seizing on unprecedented opportunities to build new lives.

This optimistic message about Africa turning a corner has faced criticism on different fronts. One of the most pertinent charges is that “positive reporting” fails to deliver on one of the main mandates of journalism: acting as a watchdog and keeping those in power in check, rather than praising them for their successes.

[…] A major potential pitfall is that an equally stereotypical positive image will substitute a stereotypical negative image of Africa. There is a crowd of self-appointed experts of the continent who are reinventing clichés to stress Africa’s untapped potential, when just a few years ago they were the propagators of a relentless Afro-pessimism.

As the article notes, China Central Television has also been moving into Africa. At Foreign Policy last month, Alex Pasternack examined the network’s parallel efforts to gain a foothold in the United States. Observers have been divided over the effectiveness of this state media expansion. See also more on Sino-African relations via CDT.

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