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Having a bigger say

By Ding Zhitao | Beijing Review | Updated: 2013-09-22 20:09

Breaking down barriers key for Chinese and African media

Having a bigger say

Li Wufeng (middle), Vice-Minister of the State Council Information Office of China, meets a local journalist at the Experience China--China-Nigeria Media Symposium in Abujia, capital of Nigeria, on September 19 (DING ZHITAO)

ABUJA, Nigeria - Chinese and Nigerian media should pay more attention to their respective growing roles and strive to present an authentic image of China to African audiences and vice versa. Agreement on this important step in ongoing cooperation between the two sides was reached by media representatives attending a media forum on September 19 in Abuja, Nigeria.

The agreement comes in the wake of increasing attention being paid by the international community on Africa's deepening relationship with China. "This presents an important opportunity for media in China, Nigeria and other African countries. We should seize the moment to expand cooperation between Chinese and Nigeria media, increase our say, and contribute to cooperation between China, Nigeria and Africa as a whole," said Li Wufeng, Vice Minister of the State Council Information Office at the China-Nigeria Media Symposium.

The media symposium was jointly held by the State Council Information Office, the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, and the Federal Ministry of Education, Nigeria. It formed part of the "Experience China" program, which aims to increase cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between China and other parts of the world.

In the past, due to poor communication facilities, China and African countries could only learn about each other through third parties, in particular Western media, which may have given rise to and perpetuated misunderstandings.

"China is still not a constant feature or subject on the front page and prime time in the news media in Nigeria unless there are disasters and alleged human rights abuses to be reported," said Martins Oloja, Editor of The Guardian.

Major Western media continue to perpetrate and promote a Cold War mentality and view Sino-African ties through the lens of geopolitics, framing everything as competition between East and West, Chinese and Nigerian media professionals said at the forum.

Some Western media outlets accuse China of ignoring mutually beneficial solutions or sustainable development of African people, whilst robbing the continent of its natural resources. Other calls for how China can resolve Africa's woes include improving areas like trade deficits, environmental protection, social responsibilities of enterprises, financial cooperation, sub-standard products made in China, and the welfare of local workers.

Non-governmental organizations and media outlets indiscriminately quote the Western media's reports on China, either out of lack of understanding or through political bias. Their position on matters may be misleading to the African public, said Li.

Journalists at the forum agreed. "A lot of what we pick from the Western media is prejudice to paint a wrong picture," said Mohammed Bello, Director of News Radio Nigeria, at the forum.

"Nigerians cannot expect Aljazeera or BBC to report on Africa, and indeed Nigeria and China relations, the way we want," said Oloja.

Mutually objective coverage will generate more cooperation and better understanding between China and Nigeria, said Li Xiaohua, a representative from China.org.cn, a leading multi-language website in China.

She pointed out that in sharp contrast to the booming political and economic relationships, media and cultural exchanges between China and Africa are lagging behind.

Attendees agreed the media of the two countries should overcome obstacles in the way of presenting an authentic image of their countries in order to see each other rationally and objectively.

Chinese companies working in Africa tend to keep a low profile in order to focus on their projects. While excelling in building roads, bridges and hospitals and fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities through contributing to local communities, many fail to publicize their achievements. Media outlets should give Chinese businesses more opportunities to tell their stories and express their views, said Li Ya'nan, a reporter representing China News Services.

African journalists could interview Chinese enterprises in Africa, as well as Africans studying and working in China. They may find fresh, vivid, first-hand stories on the Chinese dream and African dream, said Wang Wen, Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and a columnist from the Global Times. He advocated that media should work for more comprehensive coverage of what is going on in China and Africa.

Chinese media is making a concerted effort to involve and include African commentators and correspondents to provide authentic input and news from the continent. At ChinAfrica, a monthly magazine published in English and French targeting an African audience, a process of induction and training has resulted in a core enthusiastic team of African writers in several countries now contributing on a regular basis to the magazine on a wide variety of business, human interest and political content.

Nigerian media professionals at the forum showed great enthusiasm for cooperating with Chinese media. Charles Onunaiju, a contributor to ChinAfrica magazine and author of China/Africa--Issues, Challenges And Possibilities, said he looks forward to more exchanges with Chinese colleagues.

African correspondents are keen to be involved with Chinese media in a symbiotic effort to both learn more about what is taking place in China and having an opportunity to contribute authentic news about what is happening in Africa on the ground. These correspondents are also well placed to explain the extensive amount of cooperation going on between China and Africa in fields as diverse as climate control and mining, to health and manufacturing.

A broader picture shows more collaboration between the Chinese and African media outlets. Major Chinese media outlets have established a sound media infrastructure and a broad range of channels for enlarging China's media footprint in the African continent. In 2006, China Radio International (CRI) began broadcasting from Nairobi, while Xinhua News Agency has over 20 bureaus across the continent. Xinhua's television station, CNC World, began broadcasting to more than 4 million African satellite and cable viewers at the start of 2011. Later in April 2011, Xinhua partnered with a Kenyan mobile operator to provide news feeds for mobile phones. In January 2012, the China Central Television (CCTV), established CCTV Africa based also in Nairobi and in the same month ChinAfrica magazine opened its African bureau in Johannesburg. In December 2012, China Daily, China's biggest English-language newspaper, launched its first African edition. These media outlets are exploring new business operation modes in Africa, some of collaborating with local media to do so. All these Chinese media outlets sent representatives to the media forum.

There were also calls for stronger new media at the forum. "Nigeria should, on behalf of Africa, establish a digital platform as Qatar has done for the Middle East," said Oloja. "Nigeria needs to upgrade its media organizations into a global brand that cannot be ignored." He suggested Chinese media create more content and programs and attract more qualified digital journalists that can use modern technology to drive more "traffic."

"The media is the mirror and in some cases the light," said Bello. "It should mirror the China-Nigeria bilateral relationship and where necessary proffer the direction it could be bettered."

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