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The News Media's Mixed Record in Covering China-Africa Ties

News organizations from across Africa and around the world are devoting more resources to covering China’s engagement on the continent. The overall quantity of coverage has undoubtedly increased over the past decade. The key question, though, is whether all of that coverage has produced better quality reporting that is more textured, nuanced and relies less on dated stereotypes of both Chinese and Africans?

The short answer is, well, ‘it’s complicated.’

Foreign journalists who often swoop in to cover the ‘big China-Africa story’ often miss the nuances and subtleties of this complicated relationship. Their reporting frequently includes a number of well-worn editorial short-cuts (e.g. references to neo-colonialism, mentions of Chinese prison labor, etc…) that often deviate from the facts.

Conversely, reporting at the local level, particularly by African print publications, has improved considerably. In contrast to the big narrative journalism done by international news outlets, these smaller organizations often focus much more granular topics that do not lend themselves to grand, sweeping narratives that can be very misleading. This kind of reporting, such as a Chinese development project in Kenya, road building in Rwanda, or anti-Chinese dissent in Angola, is much more targeted and has now become a staple of African reporting on the Chinese.

The China-Africa Reporting Project at the Wits University school of journalism in Johannesburg was founded to help journalists from all over the world improve their reporting on China-Africa issues. Each year, the program provides grants to reporters to cover any topic they choose so long as it is related to Africa-China relations. These reporting fellows are provided funds funds for travel and accommodation during their assignment.

The China-Africa Reporting Project recently published a book (PDF) that features the best China-Africa reporting from its fellows over the past 6 years. Barry van Wyk is the project coordinator at the program and played a central role in the publication of the book. He joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the key trends in Africa-China news reporting.

Show Notes:

About Barry van Wyk:

Barry completed his first Master’s degree in South African history at the University of Pretoria in 2004, and a second Master’s in Economic History at the London School of Economics in 2005.

In 2006 he started Chinese language studies in Tianjin, China, and then in 2008 started working as a China-Africa business consultant in Beijing. In 2012 he was appointed project manager at Danwei, a research firm analyzing the Chinese media and Internet, also based in Beijing.

He was appointed Project Coordinator of the China-Africa Reporting Project in June 2015.

What is The China-Global South Project?


The China-Global South Project is passionately independent, non-partisan and does not advocate for any country, company or culture.


A carefully curated selection of the day’s most important China-Global South stories. Updated 24 hours a day by human editors. No bots, no algorithms.


Diverse, often unconventional insights from scholars, analysts, journalists and a variety of stakeholders in the China-Global South discourse.


A unique professional network of China-Africa scholars, analysts, journalists and other practioners from around the world.