The Chinese Communist Party-controlled international television news broadcaster CGTN (China Global Television News) faces a seemingly-irreconcilable dilemma. While the network positions itself as an alternative to the dominant global channels like CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, CGTN also has a separate, arguably more important mission as the voice of the party that must always adhere to “core socialist values” according to mandates set by Chinese president Xi Jinping.
“The content producers who expressed moderate dissatisfaction with CCTV (CGTN) Africa’s style of producing content listed censorship over topics relating to China, emphasis on governments’ official state positions, and bureaucratic protocols as their reasons for frustration within the workplace.” — Melissa Lefkowitz
The problem is that news content and those “core socialist values” often do not mix very well, resulting in programming that can more closely resembles pure propaganda. While this tension does cause problems in other state-funded newsrooms around the world, many of the journalists and production staff based in CGTN’s Africa headquarters in Nairobi have learned how to navigate this delicate balance, according to new research by New York University Phd student Melissa Lefkowitz.
Melissa was granted rare access inside CGTN Africa where she spent two months interviewing staff and observing the channel’s operations. She discovered that despite the obvious political challenges, particularly when it comes to reporting on China, and sometimes difficult cross cultural challenges between the Chinese management and African editorial staff, employee morale at CGTN is surprisingly positive.
Melissa joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the politics of Chinese TV news in Africa and her experiences with the people produce the news at CGTN in Nairobi.
- China-Africa Research Initiative: Chinese Media, Kenyan Lives: An Ethnographic Inquiry into CCTV Africa’s Head Offices by Melissa Lefkowitz
- South China Morning Post: China’s State Broadcast CCTV Rebrands International Networks as CGTN in Global Push by The Associated Press
- China Central Television: Xi Stress Core Socialist Values by Xinhua
Melissa Lefkowitz is a student in New York University’s doctoral program in sociocultural anthropology and certificate program in culture and media. Her current research explores China’s evolving relationship with Kenya. Between 2012 and 2015, she researched and wrote widely on Africans living in China and co-directed a documentary on the topic entitled China Remix.