Chinese media in South Africa: attitudes and awareness amongst media practitioners

Dani Madrid-Morales, City University of Hong Kong
Herman Wasserman, University of Cape Town

The size and breadth of China’s footprint in Africa’s media sector have reached dimensions that make it increasingly difficult to go unnoticed. South Africa—alongside Kenya—is arguably the country were this imprint is more diversified. The presence of Chinese media companies in the continent today involves content production and distribution on multiple platforms, both news and entertainment; infrastructure development, such as telecommunication networks and broadcasting equipment; and investment in local media companies. An upsurge in academic interest in Sino-African media relations in recent years has helped explicate the phenomenon from a myriad of perspectives, from political economy analyses to critical examinations of content and production. Building on previous exploratory studies by the authors, this paper addresses one unresolved question in China’s media internationalisation: the assessment of their audience impact. Based on over twenty semi-structured in-depth interviews with South African editors, journalists and policy makers in Johannesburg and Cape Town we provide the most comprehensive attempt at answering the question how much influence do Chinese media have on the journalistic profession in South Africa? We describe a diverse array of views and attitudes towards Chinese media, which suggest a complex and nuanced relationship between South Africa’s media practitioners and the aspiring global Chinese media.

In this paper we present and develop responses along four dimensions: awareness, journalistic relevance, professional influence and long-term impact. We further propose a four-fold classification of media practitioners’ attitudes towards and engagement with Chinese media: adopters, professionals who have incorporated Chinese media in their routines; sceptics, whose critical views on contemporary China translate into non-adoption of Chinese media, and the undecided who have little knowledge about and no a priori bias in favour or against Chinese media, and resisters, professionals who do have some knowledge of Chinese media but are strongly resisting its uptake. Without making any claims on the generalizability of the findings to the entire South African population, our data offers enough evidence to debunk the idea that, despite their increased presence in the country, Chinese media are having a profound impact on South African media professionals. While data reveals a slow incorporation of certain Chinese media, mainly Xinhua, into the toolkit of some journalists, there is still also widespread scepticism.

Preliminary findings of this study are to be presented in Beijing, at an international workshop organised by the Communications University of China.