The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that media in democratic countries play a critical role in knowledge and awareness building, as they serve as the principle means of communication between governments and citizens. Yet it is also during a crisis that authoritarian regimes can use the same channels of communication to influence narratives, spread disinformation and contribute to panic or social unrest in other countries.
China recognizes the value of controlling foreign media as tools to foster a positive image of the country. This is especially the case with contentious issues like territorial conflicts or human rights. Though China has been a relative novice in this area, it has been on a steady learning curve. In Europe, as well as in Africa and other regions, China tests and utilizes a broad spectrum of tools to influence media. They range from mergers and acquisitions pressuring media to avoid China-critical coverage, denying advertising to punish China-critical media, or more recently, placing advertorials to media outlets, hiring PR companies to facilitate the penetration of China’s narratives to the media, to the intimidation of critical journalists by sending them pre-litigation notices.
In Africa, there is a strong faction of journalists and editors, who are increasingly critical of Beijing’s “positive journalism”. They reject invitations for PhD studies in the People’s Republic and withstand the temptations of well-paid jobs at Chinese Media houses. But as more investments flow and more Chinese advertisement appears in media, the question arises, how constructive and critical journalism can be supported. What lessons can be learned from experiences on both continents, in Africa and Europe? Especially societies in Africa need more than ever access to qualitative and independent journalism. How can media literacy among societies be preserved and strengthened?
Kerstin Lohse-Friedrich, Director Communication at MERICS, will moderate this event.