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StarTimes Moves Quickly to Adapt to COVID-19 Crisis in Africa

Fake news and all sorts of misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic are now rampant on African social media. Reports that Bill Gates wants to test a new vaccine on African people or that the surgical masks donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma are infected with COVID-19 are now seemingly everywhere, confusing people as to what information they can trust and news that’s fake.

A sample of the kind of fake news about COVID-19 that is now circulating widely on social media in Africa.

The Chinese-owned African pay-TV giant StarTimes sees an opportunity amidst this burgeoning information chaos to position itself as a trusted source of news and information about the virus. The company has moved quickly over the past several weeks to launch a variety of new initiatives connected with the ongoing health crisis. 

The company now offers educational programming in Uganda and Kenya targeted at students who can no longer attend school due to the lockdowns. Similarly, the company launched a new edutainment program called Mindset Learn on its popular ST Kids channel. They’ve also added new health features on their mobile app that allows users who are not feeling well to determine if they may in fact have COVID-19.  Most importantly, they’ve created a new daily news update, broadcast in multiple languages, that focuses entirely on COVID-19.

This new news report signals an important change for the company’s strategy, which until now only carried channels like BBC and FRANCE 24 but never produced its own editorial programming. And with access to more than 30 million homes in 37 different countries, StarTimes has a huge platform and more direct access to African consumers than any other Chinese company.

Dani Madrid-Morales, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Journalism at the University of Houston, is among a handful of scholars around the world who researches StarTimes and is carefully monitoring the company’s rapidly evolving corporate strategy in this new COVID-19 era.

Dani joins Eric & Cobus to talk about the company’s new COVID-19-focused programming and the potential risk that it new news program gets sucked into the bitter dispute between China and the rest of the world over accountability for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Show Notes:

About Dani Madrid-Morales:

Dr. Madrid-Morales is an assistant professor of journalism in the Jack J. Valenti School of Communication at the University of Houston. He holds a Ph.D. degree in media and communication from City University of Hong Kong, and M.A. degrees in international relations (Freie Universität, Berlin) and contemporary East Asian studies (Universitat Autònoma de Barecelona). His research falls at the nexus of global media studies, international politics and popular culture, and is geographically focused in the Global South, particularly East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Madrid-Morales’ academic work has been published in top peer-reviewed journals such as Journalism Studies and the International Journal of Communication. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Universitat Popmpeu Fabra, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya and City University of Hong Kong. Before pursuing an academic career, Dr. Madrid-Morales, who is able to communicate in seven languages (in order of proficiency, Catalan, Spanish, English, French, Italian, Russian, Japanese and Chinese), worked as a broadcast journalist covering world affairs.

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