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Africa
Stories to Tell
Media forum discusses how best to tell the China-Africa narrative
By Lu Anqi | VOL.9 September 2017
China Africa Media Forum held in Johannesburg on August 14

ALTHOUGH the distance between Africa and China may be far, there are a lot of stories to tell, especially in recent years.

According to statistics from the Chinese Embassy in South Africa, there are now more than 600 China-Africa cooperation projects in Africa that are either completed or underway, or have been signed to be implemented. These projects, valuing $108 billion, could create 209,000 direct jobs and contribute $1.15 billion tax revenue for African countries.

In terms of bilateral trade, in the first half of 2017, despite the economic headwinds worldwide, China-Africa trade hit $85.3 billion, a 19-percent increase over the same period last year, and the Chinese non-financial direct investment in Africa reached $1.6 billion, a 22-percent growth year on year.

Yet, despite these impressive figures in economic and trade fields, people in China and Africa still know little about each other. Chinese and African media coverage still has a long way to go to better facilitate cultural understanding between both sides.

China and Africa media reports

For this purpose, more than 40 editors from major media organizations in African countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Kenya, and China got together to share their views on how to best report stories and further cooperate with each other at the China-Africa Media Forum held in Johannesburg on August 14.

Themed with "Win-Win Cooperation for Common Progress," hosted by China's State Council Information Office (SCIO) and organized by China's Xinhua News Agency and South Africa's Independent Media, the forum is aimed at fostering media cooperation.

Kang Bing, Vice President and Deputy Editor in Chief of China Daily, pointed out that Chinese media's reporting of Africa cannot satisfy Chinese people's need for information about the continent because of their limited coverage, low localization levels and other factors.

Currently, there are only seven media outlets from the Chinese mainland operating in South Africa, such as China Central Television (CCTV), Xinhua News Agency and ChinAfrica magazine. Kang said that there are even fewer African media outlets operating in China.

He said this resulted in the fact that most China and Africa-related stories cited by Chinese and African media are from the Western press, which cannot fully reflect the real development of China and African countries.

According to him, on many occasions, Africa has been portrayed as a continent plagued with hunger, poverty, diseases and endless wars by the Western media.

"But that is not the whole picture of the continent," said Pang Xinhua, acting Chief of CCTV Africa, which started broadcasting in Nairobi, Kenya in January 2012. He noted that actually many countries on the continent ranked among the fastest growing economies in the world.

In 2016, Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan research network, conducted a survey in 36 African countries, showing that most African people hold a positive attitude toward China, especially Tanzanian people.

"China has a positive image in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa due to its investment in infrastructure and development projects," said Benjamin Thomas Mgana, Editor in Chief of The Guardian, Tanzania.

According to Mgana, stories in African media about Chinese enterprises in Africa are mainly on Chinese investment to the continent, which can promote and strengthen economic and trade cooperation between China and Africa.

The China-Africa narrative

Peng said CCTV Africa always reports the continent from a positive angle and lets Africans tell their own stories.

CCTV Africa employs 120 locals. In its English-language regional production center in Nairobi, local employees account for 90 percent of the total.

Timothy Kola Olanrewaju, a journalist of The Sun, Nigeria, agreed that Chinese media is different from the Western media in reporting Africa.

"Chinese media present hope and expose the potential as well as the possibilities of the countries on the continent to be successful," he noted. "China appears to stand for a win-win approach rather than assuming the higher ground."

"We can fulfill what I believe is our most critical role: to empower our fellow citizens by giving them the most complete information possible to allow them to make up their own minds honestly and objectively," said Kevin Ritchie, Regional Executive Editor of Independent Media, Gauteng.

Guo Weimin, Vice Minister of the SCIO, suggested that media actively focus on significant topics, such as the synergy of China's Belt and Road Initiative and Africa's important development strategies, to contribute to the development of China-Africa cooperation.

Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Lin Songtian noted that the media should promote China-Africa friendship, and uphold common interest. He advocated telling real and truthful stories about China-Africa cooperation and promoting the opportunities of China-Africa mutually beneficial cooperation.

More practical cooperation

The media exchange between China and Africa started in the mid-1950s. With the deepening of relations, media exchange has expanded in scale, frequency and form.

Every year, the Chinese Government invites 1,000 African media workers to come to China for training.

Meanwhile the China Africa Press Center has offered four groups of about 100 African journalists the opportunity of personnel exchange to learn and work in China since its launch in 2014.

In Africa, some major Chinese media organizations have set up their own African bureaus, while also encouraging journalists to go to Africa to do field reporting. African media and African journalists also actively participate in reporting China and its major events, such as the annual sessions of the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

"Chinese and African media should promote more practical cooperation," said Guo. "Compared with the fast growing China-Africa relations, the people-to-people understanding and recognition are far from enough, and there is still a large amount of room and potential for cooperation."

Looking ahead, both Chinese and African media organizations wish to have more cooperation opportunities to tell their own stories.

"Media cooperation is an important bridge for China and Africa to enhance mutual understanding and promote friendship," said Mgana.

Jiang Aimin, Director of China Radio International Africa Headquarters, proposed to enhance the practical cooperation in the field of content sharing, people-to-people exchange, training and film and television production.

His sentiments were echoed by Li Jianguo, Deputy Editor in Chief of Beijing Review, China's only English weekly of news analysis, said that the media organization welcomes all kinds of cooperation in the field of content sharing, as well as personnel exchange, training and book distribution.

Beijing Review also publishes ChinAfrica, China's leading English and French monthly on China-Africa affairs.

Judith Liemisa Konayuma, editor of the Zambia Daily Mail, said Zambian media have recently increased the number of community radio stations and television programs. "These are some of the opportunities that can be used and explored by both sides to increase the media coverage," she proposed.

(Reporting from South Africa)

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