Aly Diouf covers the BRICS Xiamen Summit on a China-Africa media exchange project in September 2017 (COURTESY PHOTO)
Since 2012, China has risen from being the 24th ranked trade partner of Senegal to the first, with a trade volume of $2.19 billion in 2017, according to Ministry of Commerce of China. This increased cooperation between the two countries was made possible by a strong mutual political will at the highest level.
In maintaining sustainable cooperation, however, it is undeniable that to better benefit from it, the two partner countries need to establish mutual trust, especially as they have different cultures. To assist with this, media have an important role to play in deepening the friendship and partnership between China and Africa.
After a year's stay in Beijing, M. Modou Mamoune Faye, former head of the editorial board of the Senegalese daily Le Soleil, said he admires Chinese media, which has diversified itself, anticipating the crisis in which many Western media outlets are now bogged down in as a result of fierce competition from the Internet and social media networks. This lucrative diversification strategy has allowed them to financially strengthen their operations.
Faye's stay in Beijing was made possible thanks to one of China's cooperation programs, which enabled a dozen senior African journalists to undergo a formative stay in the country. Two years later, Aly Diouf, also from Le Soleil, benefited from the same experience. The African journalists who spent time in China returned home with a different understanding and a more objective view on the realities of the country, which often receives negative publicity in Western media.
Seeing is believing
The experiences of the Senegalese journalists in China allowed them to closely follow how relations between China and African countries are evolving. The trade volume between the two has experienced an extraordinary boom thanks to key and huge Chinese investments particularly in the infrastructure sector. The increase in Chinese investments in Africa has not escaped the criticism of the Western media, relaying the words of European and American leaders apparently worried about the rise of this dynamic new cooperation.
Some Western analysts even went as far as accusing China of recolonizing Africa. The Western media has become the mouthpiece of these attacks, forgetting that cooperation between China and Africa has led to achievements that the continent has not been able to achieve for over 50 years while working with Europe and the United States. To be convinced of this, one only has to take a look at how China is covered in the Western media.
In China, the media is mainly owned by the state. Therefore, the global crisis affecting the media does not have much effect on them. Thanks to important economies of scale, the circulation of Chinese newspapers usually exceeds 1 million copies, generating sizeable revenues from advertising. This is apart from the additional resources derived from the diversification policies started a decade ago.
On the other hand, Western media are mainly owned by large financial or industrial groups and are experiencing a sharp crisis in the face of increasingly fierce competition on the part of social media. In Africa, for its part, media companies are often entities run by former journalists converted into media owners. The most stable media are state-owned enterprises, partially financed by public resources.
To overcome the global media crisis that only the Chinese media seems to have been able to avoid, it is necessary to imagine and implement a pragmatic cooperation program to assist Africa's media houses. Since the early 1990s, they have played a greater role in the consolidation of democracy, the strengthening of freedoms and the promotion of economic development on the continent.
Options to explore
Unfortunately, in Africa, the small size of print media companies and their overabundance in each country are not conducive for a consistent policy in support of the media. Any cooperation with China in the media sector must, therefore, take this into account. Operating in a sector that is overly competitive, with a weak readership and an advertising market that favors other forms of communication media, China and Africa, especially Senegal, should find a new media cooperation dimension.
In fact, cooperation should focus on several points: sharing of contents between media, organizing study tours of African media owners and journalists in China, strengthening the status of foreign correspondents with a work period of at least three years in Beijing, and investing in young African media companies or setting up dedicated financing support cooperation. To date, China has donated computer hardware to African media such as Le Soleil and facilitated visits of media delegations in both countries.
As for content sharing, El Hadj Hamidou Kassé, Minister in charge of communications at the Senegalese Presidency, has made an eloquent plea. During a seminar organized last year in Saly Portudal, a seaside resort south of Dakar, by the Chinese Embassy in Senegal, he argued, "Content sharing should feature prominently in the cooperation between Chinese and Senegalese media." Kassé said that this approach will strengthen mutual understanding and trust and "promote values of friendship, openness and solidarity between the two countries."
Today, the partnership must find a new dimension, a relevant dynamism and further options to explore. Already, the French monthly CHINAFRIQUE has spearheaded a new form of partnership with Le Soleil by printing its magazine in Senegal. It is a mutually beneficial experience, much similar to the one made by its English edition, ChinAfrica, in South Africa.
In a world in perpetual change, it is critical for the African media to follow the example of the highly profitable Chinese model, which has been able to modernize and adapt to a difficult environment. To adapt or to disappear, this is the lesson to be learned from China's media model.
(The author is an economist, journalist and former head of the Senegalese daily Le Soleil)
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