“It is an exciting time to discuss China-Africa relations.” Zhenxing (Bruce) Chen, a Yenching Scholar, said as he began his opening speech at the China-Africa Journalism Forum held on May 14th, 2016.
The forum brought together journalists from Africa and China, Chinese professors, the former Chinese ambassador to Eritrea and Rwanda, as well as representatives from Chinese enterprises in Africa to share their experiences and opinions about “How China and Africa See Each Other.” This thought-provoking event was organized by the Yenching Academy of Peking University and International Sino-Africa Watch (ISAW), co-organized by the Center for African Studies of Peking University and supported by the Peking University African Students Association (PUASA).
The conversation kick-started with a video documented by the School of Journalism and Communications of Tsinghua University. In the video, Beijing-based respondents are first tested about Africa’s regional facts, followed by questions on their perceptions of the continent and its people. The low level of knowledge demonstrated by the respondents highlighted a low level of coverage of Africa in Chinese media.
To deconstruct the existing representations of the stereotypical “lazy” Africa and a “China that is a new colonizer, supporting ‘rogue’ African states”, Liu Haifang (Associate Professor at School of International Studies, Peking University; Deputy Director & Secretary General, the Centre for African Studies, Peking University) engaged the audience to think about ways to deconstruct the hegemonic images that make up the Africa-China relationship.
“If the story does not serve Chinese interest, the story does not get told,” an attendant of the forum said during the Q&A session. In line with this sentiment, the former Chinese ambassador to Eritrea and Rwanda, Mr. Shu Zhan highlighted that Chinese media should not only cover the Sino-Africa relationship but further report African countries independently and objectively.
The first speaker of the Forum, Lianxing Li (Secretary General of China-Africa communications program of Tsinghua University, CCTV) emphasized how important it is for Africans to actively seek knowledge about China, principally because of China’s expanding economic ties in the African continent. He continued that without Africans telling their own story about the China-Africa relationship, China would maintain virtual dominance on the reporting on Africa for the Chinese audience.
Financial deprivation associated with media operations in Africa was identified as a key challenge that has led to slow progress in increasing media coverage of Africa in China. Despite the said difficulties, Lovering Sichizya (A journalist working with the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) called for more African journalists “to rise above their challenges by engaging more interactively seizing all available opportunities to report more on African issues for different media in China so as to move forward the African agenda instead of waiting for sponsored programs or reporting projects…”
At a micro level, Zizhu Zhang (Freelancer and Special Correspondent based in Africa) brought up some of the challenges faced by Chinese reporters. Poor infrastructure, low internet access and lack of logistical support inhibit journalist’s effectiveness in coordinating and reporting on the ground. This latency is compounded by budget constraints. Consequently, it has become common for private reporters to rely on established sites such as CCTV, Al Jazeera and BBC. This dependency skews reporting and allows established media sites to dominate Sino-Africa news. It is clear that without increased funding, private media will continue to face challenges in covering China-Africa news.
Lovering Sichizya emphasized the dire need for more positive stories to improve public perception on the continent and called for more stories highlighting peace in Africa instead of ubiquitous turmoil. Simon Matingwina (a Ph.D. candidate from Zimbabwe at the Communication University of China) agreed and echoed the desire for China-Africa reporting to move towards Constructive Journalism, journalism that empowers audiences by offering holistic coverage, with a focus on solutions.
Looking to the future of China-Africa reporting exchanges, Yanqiu Zhan (Professor of Communication, the Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Journalism and Communication, the Communication University of China (CUC)) advised African media practitioners reporting in China to incorporate an engaging and open mindset when working with the local media industry in China.
The final speaker, Shengkang Cao (A blind world traveler) shared his personal traveling experiences in the African continent.
The final closing speaker, John Holden (Associate Dean of Yenching Academy), affirmed the value of the China-Africa Journalism Forum and suggested that a follow up forum ought to be led by scholars at the Yenching Academy. This will serve to promote active discussions on ways to enhance positive images of China-Africa relations.