The News Media’s Mixed Record in Covering China-Africa Ties

A China in Africa Podcast

News organizations from across Africa and around the world are devoting more resources to covering China’s engagement on the continent. The overall quantity of coverage has undoubtedly increased over the past decade. The key question, though, is whether all of that coverage has produced better quality reporting that is more textured, nuanced, and relies less on dated stereotypes of both Chinese and Africans?

The short answer is, well, “it’s complicated.”

Foreign journalists who often swoop in to cover the “big China-Africa story” often miss the nuances and subtleties of this complicated relationship. Their reporting frequently includes a number of well-worn editorial short-cuts (e.g. references to neo-colonialism, mentions of Chinese prison labor, etc.) that often deviate from the facts.

Conversely, reporting at the local level, particularly by African print publications, has improved considerably. In contrast to the big narrative journalism done by international news outlets, these smaller organizations often focus on much more granular topics that do not lend themselves to grand, sweeping narratives that can be very misleading. This kind of reporting, such as a Chinese development project in Kenya, road-building in Rwanda, or anti-Chinese dissent in Angola, is much more targeted and has now become a staple of African reporting on the Chinese.

The China-Africa Reporting Project at the Wits University school of journalism in Johannesburg was founded to help journalists from all over the world improve their reporting on China-Africa issues. Each year, the program provides grants to reporters to cover any topic they choose so long as it is related to Africa-China relations. These reporting fellows are provided funds for travel and accommodation during their assignment.

The China-Africa Reporting Project recently published a book that features the best China-Africa reporting from its fellows over the past six years. Barry van Wyk is the project coordinator at the program and played a central role in the publication of the book. He joins Eric and Cobus to discuss the key trends in Africa-China news reporting.