CCTV: Africa’s true image or China’s strategic vehicle?

Updated 14 August 2012
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CCTV: Africa’s true image or China’s strategic vehicle?

NAIROBI: The countdown starts and the Kenyan newsreader runs through the top headlines for the evening bulletin. In a few minutes he will go on air in Nairobi, broadcasting live for China state television.
It’s 8 p.m. in the Kenyan capital and 1 a.m. in Beijing, when China Central Television (CCTV) hands over to its Nairobi team for “Africa Live”, an hour-long flagship program billed as a “new voice” for African news and Sino-African relations.
On a recent night, the spotlight was on Rwanda’s economic expansion and the Somali athletes taking part in the Olympics in London.
“We want to keep a balance,” Pang Xinhua, CCTV’s managing editor who runs a network of correspondents in a dozen African countries, told AFP. “We are not only talking about war, diseases or poverty, we also focus on economic development.”
“Africa Live” is put together by a team of 60 or so people in Nairobi — about 50 of them Kenyans. It holds a prime time slot in east Africa but is also televised worldwide.
“We opened this bureau in order to be able to tell the real Africa story, the real story of China and the real story of Sino-African relations,” CCTV Africa chief Song Jianing said, echoing remarks by China’s ambassador to Kenya when the switchover started in January.
Nairobi was CCTV’s first regional bureau to produce and broadcast its own hour-long news program. Its cousin CCTV America soon followed suit.
For its inauguration, CCTV Africa managed to get Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka to make a speech.
He urged the channel to “present a new image of the continent” to break with the trend in which Africa is often shown in the international media as “the continent of endless calamities”.
Chris Alden of the London School of Economics said CCTV Africa is “part of a wider strategy to combat what can be seen as a negative relationship” between China and Africa.
“Chinese officials start from a diagnosis that too many Africans rely on Western-based news services,” said Alden, who is certain CCTV “will have an impact.”
“Where there is deep unhappiness among local African businesses experiencing displacement due to competition from Chinese companies, it won’t eliminate that, but it could lessen a negative effect,” he said.
“It’s also ...for Chinese people to get a better understanding of Africa,” he added, saying events like last year’s Libyan conflict in which 30,000 Chinese had to be evacuated by Beijing “have an impact on Chinese investments in Africa.”
For David Bandurski of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University, CCTV Africa is part of China’s bid to beef up its “soft power” strategy, a notion that first emerged with President Hu Jintao in 2007 and aims to win influence abroad by appeal and exchanges rather than threats or force.
Other pundits point to the media’s role in this.
“China has sent its state media on a global mission to advance its influence in the world,” said Yu-Shan Wu from the South African Institute of International Affairs, in a recent paper noting that Beijing’s efforts “previously focused on trade, investment and diplomatic activities.”
And this mission is not limited to CCTV and its Africa broadcasts. The Chinese TV giant also has programs in French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian, while the state news agency Xinhua is also expanding worldwide.
CCTV Africa, meanwhile, insists that it wants to present the world through an African prism.
“The thing I like is that we are telling the story from our perspective,” said Beatrice Marshall, a star news reader at the Kenyan station KTN who was wooed over to CCTV Africa.
“When you go to rural Kenya now, you see that everyone can watch TV, listen to radio, people are more educated and we want to talk about that,” she told AFP.
On the delicate issue of whether Beijing censors content, Douglas Okwatch, editor on the Saturday “Talk Africa” programme presented by Marshall, said staff have a free hand on their stories “as long as they are objective, balanced and not dragging in unnecessary controversies.”
“One thing they (CCTV) are doing right,” analyst Wu told AFP, “is to provide a platform for Africans to speak their point of view.
“On other channels, I don’t find such platforms to speak on Africa by Africans,” she said, but questioned how CCTV Africa will fare if it emphasises only the upside of Sino-African relations.
“Credibility is not covering only the positive stories,” said Wu.
Hong Kong University’s Bandurski, meanwhile, said CCTV news products “must be subjected to political controls, even if these controls are not necessarily as rigid as those imposed on domestic Chinese media.”

But he agreed it will be “very difficult to build a credible international media when you do not have sufficient leeway to produce truly professional coverage.”
CCTV Africa chief Song, whom the staff all call “Madame Song”, insists that Beijing has not rejected any content so far, and hopes soon to add a second hour of programming out of Nairobi.
And at a time when many Western media houses are struggling to survive, the Chinese TV giant has the means to finance its expansion projects.
CCTV aims to rank among “the biggest media groups in the world”, said Song.


Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

Updated 2 min 32 sec ago
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Kim’s ‘bitter sorrow’ as North Korea bus crash kills 32 Chinese

  • Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium
  • For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago

BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed his “bitter sorrow” after dozens of Chinese tourists were killed when a bus they were traveling in plunged off a bridge.
Thirty-two Chinese tourists and four North Koreans perished in the accident south of Pyongyang Sunday night, Chinese officials and state media said. Two other Chinese nationals were injured.
In a rare admission of negative news from North Korea’s tightly controlled propaganda network, the KCNA news agency on Tuesday said Kim met personally with the Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang and later visited survivors in hospital.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, carried a front-page on Kim’s actions, including pictures of him in a doctor’s white coat, holding the two survivors’ hands as they lay in their hospital beds.
Although such a move might be unsurprising in other countries, it is an unusual portrayal of Kim, who is usually shown presiding over formal meetings or visiting work or army units.
Kim “said that the unexpected accident brought bitter sorrow to his heart and that he couldn’t control his grief at the thought of the bereaved families who lost their blood relatives,” KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader said his people “take the tragic accident as their own misfortune,” it added.
The fulsomeness of Kim’s comments reflects the importance of China — and its tourists — to his country and economy.
Beijing is Pyongyang’s sole major ally, providing an important economic and political buffer against international opprobrium.
Their relationship was forged in the blood of the Korean War, and while it has soured more recently, with China increasingly exasperated by the North’s nuclear antics and enforcing UN Security Council sanctions against it, there has been an improvement in recent weeks.
Last month, Kim embarked on his first overseas trip since inheriting power in 2011 to finally pay his respects to Chinese President Xi Jinping and was warmly welcomed in Beijing.
China is by far the biggest source of tourists for the North, with direct flights and a long land border connecting the neighbor, and tens of thousands are believed to visit every year, many crossing via train through the Chinese border city of Dandong.
For some, North Korea provides a window into what Communist China may have looked like decades ago.
In contrast Western visitors to the North once averaged around 5,000 a year, but numbers have been hit recently by a US travel ban — Americans accounted for around 20 percent of the market — and official warnings from other countries.
Xinhua news agency reported that the bus had fallen from a bridge in North Hwanghae province.
China’s state broadcaster showed images of a large overturned vehicle, with light rain falling on rescue vehicles at night and doctors attending to a patient.
KCNA said the crash was “an unexpected traffic accident that claimed heavy casualties among Chinese tourists.” It gave no breakdown on the numbers killed or injured.
The Chinese foreign ministry said Tuesday a group of officials and five medical experts had arrived in Pyongyang to assist the North in treating the injured and dealing with the aftermath.
They also visited a temporary morgue for the dead to check their identities and express condolences, it said.
North Hwanghae province lies south of Pyongyang and stretches to the border with South Korea. It includes the city of Kaesong, an ancient Korean capital with historical sites and, until recently, a manufacturing complex operated with the South.
The tour group was traveling by bus from Kaesong to Pyongyang when the accident happened, according to the independent Seoul-based website NK News, which cited an unnamed source.
North Korean roads are largely poor and potholed, and in many areas, they are dirt rather than tarmac. Vehicles are sometimes forced to ford rivers or take detours when bridges are unpassable.
But the route from Pyongyang to Kaesong is one of the best in the country.
It runs north-south from the Chinese border to the Demilitarized Zone on the border with South Korea but has little traffic, like all North Korean highways.
Tank traps have been installed along the road in many locations — sets of high concrete columns on either side of the road that can easily be blown up to create an obstruction for invading armored vehicles.