This study will make a significant contribution to existing knowledge of the media’s role in South Africa-China relations within the context of BRICS, as it will be the first systematic, longitudinal study to examine the role of the media across various levels. While previous studies of media coverage of China-Africa relations have been conducted (including by the applicant), this will be expanded in this study. Coverage will form one level of investigation to be conducted. Of additional importance is the journalistic norms and value systems that influence such coverage, and that in turn may be influenced by a closer relationship with China. Thirdly, the success or otherwise of Chinese soft power initiatives in SA will be assessed.

One of the key questions that remain as yet unanswered is thus how successful the Chinese ‘soft power‘ efforts have been in South Africa, and conversely how South African media expansion into China (for instance Naspers’ investment in Tencent) will shape the operations of media locally. Related to these questions is the issue of how the China-South Africa relationship, within the broader context of BRICS, is represented by the media, how the mediation of the South Africa-China relationship compares to the country’s relationship with other BRICS countries, and how this mediation might shape audience attitudes towards the changing geopolitical landscape and South Africa’s place in it (see previous exploratory studies in this regard, Wasserman 2012, 2014).

Debates about the media’s role in the new South African democracy continue apace, and questions around the media’s relationship to government and how media freedom and independence are related to the media’s social and democratic responsibility remain far from settled. In these processes, the media is not a neutral conduit for information, but a central stakeholder in power struggles for political and economic power. The question then becomes how global shifts in the communication order will be mediated by, and impact upon, the South African media.
This project will seek to track the implications of these shifts for the South African media, by investigating the global flows and contraflows of media capital, the representations and discourses through which the South African media have interpreted these geopolitical shifts, and the ways in which audiences have responded to these mediations.

The central research questions are:

  1. How is the China-South Africa relation covered in the media? This question will focus on media producers’ and media audiences’ views on the China-South Africa relationship in general, within the context of the wider BRICS grouping, and their views on media coverage of this relationship
  2. How will the China-South Africa relationship influence, and be influenced by, journalistic norms and practices? This question will be answered by investigating media producers’ and media audiences’ views on what China’s media push on the continent and involvement in the South African media landscape might mean for current norms (e.g. press freedom) and journalistic practices
  3. How successful a vehicle has the media been for the exercise of Chinese soft power in South Africa? : The usefulness and appeal of Chinese media as a source for media production or as products of media consumption, and the influence of these media on media producers’ and audiences’ conceptions of the China-Africa relationship, will be investigated.

Each of the above research questions will be approached from two perspectives, namely that of media producers and media audiences, and from two locations, that of South Africa and that of China (with co-investigators located in both countries).