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China Launches Media Campaign In Nairobi


We've been talking for some time about how China is spreading its influence around the world. NPR's east Africa correspondent Gregory Warner could sense it when he dropped by a newsstand in Nairobi.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Hi. Do you sell the China Daily?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: In newsstands across the city, China Daily - China's only English-language newspaper - wedged a spot between Time and Newsweek and the East African Business Daily.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

WARNER: Thank you.

China is Africa's biggest trading partner. You can't drive around this city without finding Chinese in hard hats directing construction crews. But now the Chinese are becoming just as visible in the media as they are on the roadside. Besides the newspaper launch this week, Kenyans can also get their news from China Radio International, a Chinese wire service and the Chinese broadcaster, CCTV.

PANG XINHUA: We come here not as rivals, but also as very friendly competitors.

WARNER: Pang Xinhua is the managing editor of CCTV, the Chinese broadcasting network, which delivers the news from a Chinese perspective, of course. But when you watch this television, you actually don't see a huge number of isn't-China-great kind of stories. There's some of that, but you see a lot more isn't-Africa-great. Pang says that's a strategy to differentiate his content from Western media, which he says focuses just on war and rape and disease.

XINHUA: We tell - the people see a lot of things, not only just the negative, but also positive.

WARNER: Like the story of Africa's economic growth and business development, places where China is playing a role.

ALLAN KAMAU: This is China's state broadcaster, so obviously, there are certain things that we will not cover.

WARNER: Allan Kamau is a producer at CCTV, a towering guy with thick, Mr. Magoo glasses. He used to report for the Financial Times in London, until Chinese television wooed him back to his native Kenya.

KAMAU: So when I was back at the, you know, my old job, there was a recession. You know, they're not planning on making anymore investments. Whereas here, we're talking about setting up new bureaus, hiring new people, expanding the content. So what an opportunity to be able to go after those stories.

WARNER: In the past year, he says CCTV has expanded to four bureaus, another 15 correspondents on the continent - 15 African-born correspondents. That is also part of the Chinese media strategy.

KAMAU: Some of our competitors, you know, BBC, you know, they prefer to have international journalists, whereas predominantly, our journalists are local journalists.

WARNER: What a new Chinese newspaper will add to the mix isn't clear. Kenya already has a crowded media landscape. Newspaper circulation is up over 6 percent. No dead or dying industry here. Gitau Warigi is a Sunday columnist for Kenya's largest rag, the Daily Nation. He says Africans won't fall for simple propaganda.

GITAU WARIGI: If it comes out like a very propaganda broadsheet. Africans can be fairly cynical. They'll see through it.

WARNER: But he says this newspaper could give the Chinese a chance to hire more African journalists. That would win hearts and minds.

WARIGI: The credibility is beefed up when you see faces there on TV or bylines in our paper which you can relate to.

WARNER: As opposed to a byline like mine.

WARIGI: Exactly. Now, when somebody sees a byline Gregory Warner and another one saying Gitau Warigi, I mean, he'll - there's that sense that Gitau Warigi will be more sensitive to the African story then Gregory Warner.

WARNER: Even if that African story is being edited by a guy named Zhu Ling.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.