The conference “Imagining Globality: China’s Global Projects in Culture," held at the China Institute of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, dealt with a number of projects which China uses globally to engage with the world through culture.
Two of the presentations were of particular interest in the AFRASO context as they dealt with the situation of China Central Television (CCTV) in Africa. CCTV is one of the four big state-run media outlets (next to China Radio International, Xinhua News Agency and the newspaper China Daily) which is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government in order “to go out” and present China’s point of view to the world.
CCTV runs 22 channels, including channels in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian. In January 2012, it opened its first overseas broadcasting center in Nairobi, Kenya, from which it broadcasts CCTV Africa (http://cctv.cntv.cn/lm/cctvafrica/01/index.shtml).
In one of the presentations, Lauren Gorfinkel (Macquarie University Sydney) noted, CCTV Africa currently not only produces a daily one hour program called ‘Africa Live’ which is broadcasted on CCTV’s English channel, but also provides the ‘I love Africa’ mobile app offered in Chinese, English, French and Arabic.
As Gorfinkel noted, the stated aims of CCTV Africa are to help African audiences to better understand China and the world through news, interviews, and documentaries, as well as through educational programs and television dramas. It also claims to help audiences in China (and around the world) to better understand Africa through reports on the politics, economics and culture of the African region. One of the aims of CCTV to run such an African channel is to become globally competitive with channels like CNN or Al Jazeera. One obstacle however, as she noted, is not only the political system back home, but also that there seems to be a confusion within the CCTV leadership about its audience. While CCTV claims to have an audience of more than 45 million outside China, Gorfinkel (as others) pointed out that this is more precisely to be seen as the potential audience (people who get CCTV within their cable package) and not so much the actual audience, as only a small portion of subscribers actually really watch CCTVs programs.
However, that there are viewers of CCTV in Africa became clear in the presentation by Cobus van Staden (University of Johannesburg). He explained that CCTV Africa is not only targeting African audiences but also the estimated 750,000 to 1 million Chinese expatriates living in Africa. In relation to the question what image China shows through its TV station and how it is perceived by an international audience, he presented some interesting findings:
- Over 90 % of his respondents described China as an “ancient culture” after watching CCTV while 86 % saw it as a “global economic powerhouse.”
- 44 % agreed that China is a peaceful country internationally and 36 % agreed that the government rules fairly at home.
- About 32 % said China is environmentally sound and 29 % agreed that China has a good human rights record.
While it may be a surprise to some that after all more than a third of the respondents are of the opinion that the government rules fair, it nevertheless becomes clear, that the effect of China’s global projects depend to a large degree on China’s track record at home.