News Investigators/ Experts have stressed the need for balanced and unbiased reporting as a measure to tackle the menace of fake news in China-Africa cooperation.
They also urged stakeholders in the China-Africa cooperation to be proactive in communicating relevant messages to journalists so as to ensure better communication to both Chinese and African audiences.
The suggestions were made Wednesday at a seminar co-organized by the Institute of Community with Shared Future, Communication University of China, and St. Augustine University of Tanzania.
This conference brought together about sixty-three professional journalists, researchers, scholars, and students focused on the theme: Against Fake News Reporting in China-Africa Cooperation Agenda.
Participants at the event agreed that fake news poses serious danger to the society whether in China or countries in Africa, especially with the advancement in communication technology, adding that the emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitters among others allows for easy trend of fake news.
In her opening remarks, Professor Zhang Yanqiu, Deputy Dean of the Institute for Community with Shared Future, who is also the Director of Africa Communication Research Center at the Communication University of China, stated the importance of cooperation among experts in different fields to share knowledge on the issue that affects China and Africa’s corporation.
Similarly, Professor Pontian Ndabaneze, the Deputy Vice-chancellor for Academic Affairs, the St. Augustine University of Tanzania, said the conference became necessary in view of the various challenges confronting China and Africa, especially the phenomenon of fake news and misinformation in the various social media triggered by high technology penetration.
According to Ndabaneze, “Fake news is the biggest threat of the world currently, that impeded the communication of shared future of mankind. Hence, the need to fight it because it endangers, devalues and delegitimize expertise and outwrites the concept of valid data.”
He said the trend of fake news in China and Africa seems to be propagated and aided by the lack of facts.
The vice-chancellor noted that Western media do not portray Africa positively, saying Africa is always reported as a continent of war, hunger, and diseases.
He urged African journalists not to repeat what western media are broadcasting, urging them to always fact check, correct, and confirm reports before reporting such news.
“This conference will yield effort in fighting fake news and misinformation. I appreciate the corporation between CUC, especially the Institute of Community with Shared Future, in co-hosting this exciting event,” he added.
Also speaking, the Executive Deputy Editor-In-Chief of Xinhua News Agency Africa Regional Bureau, Mr. Cap Kai, said cooporation between China and Africa was booming despite the backlash from various African media.
He observed that Nigerian media, however, became critical of China after the Guangzhou racial discrimination incidents. Mr. Kai also noted that fake news, for example, was politically motivated in Kenya media, citing the story of some 200 Chinese being flown back from Kenya amidst the pandemic in Kenya.
In his view, the assistance shown by the Chinese government was not recognized in African media, stating further that the media in Africa follow after the western media for their stories, which in most cases create troubles between China and Africa.
He expressed “gratitude to Professor Zhang for organizing such an event where we can learn and engage with one another on issues that are affecting us. Such more exchange of ideas that we have, we can be more meaningful when we address issues that are portrayed by others who lack the understanding of China’s intention in Africa,” said Mr. Cao Kai.
Managing Editor of The China Africa Project, South Africa, Mr. Eric Olander contended that Chinese diplomats should come up transparent and address fake news issues targeted towards China, adding that issues like the debt trap in Africa are only based on political ignorance by people who are not educated on fake news.
While such fake news spreads, the Chinese fail to comment, creating a vacuum in information flow and, in most cases generating different perceptions from different quotas.
Mr Olander praised former Chinese ambassador to South Africa for his openness and engagement whenever there were any issues that negatively portrayed China’s engagement in Africa. He advised Chinese diplomats to emulate such kind of strategy, which is currently lacking.
He also mentioned that “fact-checking would be made much easier if both the Chinese and various African governments make information more available and be more transparent, particularly on issues relating to loans and debt.
Practitioners at the conference agreed that constructive journalism could be a solution. When such a concept is practiced well in Africa, it could minimize the trend and spread of fake news and misinformation.
According to Mr. Lovering Sichizya, a journalist and researcher based in Zambia, China-Africa relations has been widely researched in academia and reported in the various media sphere. In his views, China has been portrayed as country with inferior quality products and a lot of misconception, negativity, and subjective reporting.
He noted that Facebook, for example, is used to spread fake news concerning China, depicting the Asian giant of capturing African country’s heritage.
He advocated for a more people-to-people cooperation in order for its people to learn and understand each other at the local level.
He also observed that “Western media have influenced how China-Africa communicate. “Journalists need to be educated and get new ways of communicating; they should offer solutions to the problems, employ positive engagement, meaning, and achievement.
In his remarks, Nigerian Journalist, Communications Specialist, Mr. Idowu John Bakare, said the Western media influences how the Nigerian journalist’s report news because it got its orientation from the West.
“Let me start by saying that the menace of fake news is a global phenomenon. It is also not an entirely a new concept. However, advanced technology has helped to accentuate the dimension of distortion, misinformation and disinformation especially on the social media platforms.
Quoting the Oxford Dictionary definition of fake news as ” fake information that is broadcast or published as news for fraudulent or politically motivated purposes,” He described it as a premeditate agenda to pervert the course of truth and enthrone falsehood.
“In the Covid 19 pandemic era, there seems to be an increase in the number of trending fake news on social media that appears offensive to the China-Africa cooperation.
“More than before, fake news poses a growing threat to the future of China-Africa cooperation especially if the current trend of misinformation and disinformation is allowed to fester.
“Language barrier between the Chinese and Africans seems to be a potential weapon available for an author of disinformation or fake news to exploit. And the danger becomes more grave especially where the secondary purveyor of the fake news is rebroadcasting such information unknowingly,” he argued.
Stating further that such misinformation thrives and trends so well as a result of poor communication and lack of it on the part of China.
He cited example of a 29 seconds online video that trended on social media in Nigeria sometime last June. “The video featured President Xi Jingping delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of Forum On China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 2018 summit in Beijing.
“Expectedly, President Xi spoke in Chinese. But the video was already subtitled in English supposedly by an author of fake news with a clear intention to create disaffection among the African populace towards China and Chinese. Anyone familiar with China-Africa relations would be alarmed with the interpretation given to the speech in the subtitles,” he added.
Mr. Bakare who is also the Editor-in-chief of News Investigators Nigeria, an online newspaper, noted that the international politics between China and United States and the quest for control and influence in Africa may not be unconnected with the rise in anti-China sentiment in the last two decades.
According to him, poor communication or lack of it on the part of China amid a murky international politics contributed to the free flow of fake news, especially when no one is offering the facts.
He stated that Chinese’ engagements in Nigeria was not like it used to be. “It has increased in the past few decades and that the U.S. has openly expressed reservations by portraying as China as enemy of Africa.”
He urged stakeholders to ensure timely and clear messages to the audience. They should come out to tackle the fake news because most people are challenged with the language.”
Mr. Shen Shiwei, the News Producer, Columnist, and Commentator of China Global Television Network (CGTN) based in China described fake news or false information having particular interest. Such interest is politically motivated, which creates misunderstandings on culture, political, and economic development. The challenges associated with such kind of misinformation are verification and damage control.
In his views, Mr. Shiwei agreed with other speakers that social media has made it easy and cheap to create and spread fake news. He cites that it is costly to fix the damage caused by the spread of fake news. He also claims that information overload in social media presents aspects of different media being easily shared and create a huge impact. He argues that Chinese diplomats are learning new social media like Facebook and Twitter. Regarding whether geopolitics propagate the spread of fake news about China and Africa relations, He viewed it as “USA mission to curb China and Russia’s presence in Africa.” He advocates for more constructive and investigative journalism while reporting issues of China and Africa to avoid misinformation.
In his presentation, Mr. Ali N. Sultan, a renowned journalist from Tanzania, based his argument on the new trends, technology advancement that has propagated fake news. “Such has eroded the trust of leaders and organizations and eliminated journalism’s truth, creating a community of division.”
“According to Mr. Sultan, fake news is used as a “weapon” against others to distort the process, leading to a loss of taste of listening while journalists are not reporting about china. This has limited the Chinese news from the African perspective, where Chinese products dominate the market, creating “jealousness ideology” by individuals. For him, “engaging with the citizens enable the diffusion of misinformation hence making good decision and journalist to practice evidence journalism to avoid the spread of fake news.”