Over the past couple of years Chinese media organisations have been expanding in Africa. This has been characterised as part of the growth of China's "soft power" on the continent.
A new analysis of the phenomenon by James Wan, Propaganda or proper journalism: China's media expansion in Africa, reports that the flourishing China-Africa relationship has been matched by Beijing's concerted effort to build an "impressive" media presence in Africa.
It is big in television with CCTV Africa, the English-language news channel run by China's state broadcaster, and in radio with China Radio International. As for newspapers, there is an African editon of its international English-language paper and website, China Daily. Many of its stories are provided by Beijing's official press agency, Xinhua.
Although these enterprises were initially viewed as outlets for pro-Chinese propaganda, Wan writes that most journalists working for them – the vast majority of whom are African – have not been subject to censorship.
He quotes Beatrice Marshall, the anchor of CCTV Africa's flagship news and current affairs show, as saying: "I can guarantee you that we have been 100% in control of our own editorial content. Are there any red lines? Up until this point, absolutely not."
He also reports that media academics agree… up to a point. One of them, Witwatersrand university researcher Bob Wekesa, noted a change of position from the early 1990s when "there was no room at all for criticism of certain African leaders".
But now "they increasingly don't shy away from this, though they might not go the whole hog.
Wan writes:"According to some theorists… the usual criticism of Chinese state-owned media being little more than propaganda may be missing an important point. Rather than simply being constrained, they suggest, Chinese media may also have a different philosophy of journalism to begin with."
Zhang Yanqiu, director of the Africa Communication Research Centre at the Communication University of China, argues that western media adopt a "watchdog" role while Chinese media practise what she calls "constructive journalism".
She then explains the difference:"Constructive journalism can be both positive and negative, but the purpose is to find solutions.
The idea is to give a new kind of balance and shine a new kind of light on the continent. Instead of just reporting on the situation, it asks ' how can we help them?'
The western media may be telling the truth, but if you are telling the truth and things are just getting worse and people are afraid of travelling to Africa, for whose good is this?"
Marshall also claims that constructive journalism is at the heart of CCTV Africa's ethos:
"When you look at western media, a lot of the time their strategy is to be combative. But what we want to do is say 'this is the issue, this is the challenge, and this is how it's being solved' rather than getting people to argue."
Example: in the run-up to the Nigerian general election in March, Marshall's programme focused on the security measures rather than the security threats. "It may be the same story," she says, "but the difference in framing is important."
Wan believes that although Chinese media is struggling to present itself as credible, it may be changing Africa's media landscape for the better.
He concludes by quoting Wekesa: "Both western and Chinese media are problematic for different reasons, but there is also a lot that each can, and is, learning from the other.
"For me, the ideal would be a mix of the more adversarial western approach with the more constructive Chinese approach, and I think there is evidence of them being influenced by one another already. Ultimately, this can only be good for Africa and for Africa's media."