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Changing perceptions

Updated: 2012-07-03 10:40
By Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan (China Daily)

Changing perceptions

Song Jianing chats with her African colleagues at China Central Television Africa, in Nairobi. Photos by Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Changing perceptions

Song is bureau chief of China Central Television Africa.

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The bureau chief of China Central Television Africa in Nairobi is on a mission to change people's ideas about both China and Africa. Andrew Moody and Zhong Nan report in Nairobi.

Song Jianing is on a mission not just to change Africa's view of China but also the world's view of Africa. As bureau chief of China Central Television Africa in Nairobi, the 46-year-old is one of the most powerful television executives on the continent.

She heads a team of 100 journalists and other staff, of which 60 are Africans, producing a daily one-hour news and current affairs program that is broadcast across the globe.

"We not only want to provide a real view of China to Africa but also the real Africa to the rest of the world," she says.

"So often Western media present Africa as just about wars, starvation and disasters when there is so much else going on. Similarly, they do not convey an objective view of China either," she says.

Song, a former deputy director of CCTV's French channel, as well as its anchor presenter, was speaking from the station's base in Wood Lane, Nairobi, which includes two high definition state-of-the-art studios.

Changing perceptions

CCTV Africa was launched in January this year and is now one of five major CCTV regional centers around the world outside of the Chinese mainland. The others are in Moscow, Sao Paulo, Dubai and Hong Kong.

There are high hopes in Beijing for its Africa output since there is a lot of interest among Africans about China as a result of the world's second largest economy's major economic involvement in the continent.

"African people have a fascination about China and want to know more and more about it," she says.

Song has made an effort to recruit some big African journalist names, including former Kenyan Television news anchor Beatrice Marshall, to give the station an African as well as a Chinese face. CCTV is following the model of broadcasters like Doha-based Al Jazeera that has hired high-profile presenters such as Sir David Frost.

"Our main program, Africa Live, has three presenters who are all high profile Kenyan stars. This way we are able to compete with CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera," she says.

The station's main program Africa Live can be seen on the CCTV News channel for an hour on prime time evening television in most of Africa. It is available for night owls in China at 1 am.

There are also two separate weekend shows, Talk Africa and Faces of Africa, which provide a platform for influential African voices.

"We want to extend Africa Live to two hours by the end of the year," she says.

CCTV Africa now has 14 bureaus across Africa, covering the continent from Johannesburg in the south to Algiers in the north.

"This is an important step for CCTV's strategy to become more international. Other foreign media have reporting teams throughout the world and so CCTV can do the same," she says

"Previously CCTV used to get a lot of its content from foreign news agencies, which didn't always represent a Chinese perspective. It is our aim now to do much more of our own content throughout the world."

French speaking rather than English speaking herself, she very much wants to extend CCTV's reach to Francophone African countries and provide more content in French.

Changing perceptions

"We are planning to open a French-speaking studio in one of the French-speaking West African countries to report French news and produce discussion programs. This is something we are discussing at the moment," she says.

Song, who majored in French at Capital Normal University, began her career at CCTV 20 years ago.

She first visited Africa in 1989 when she went to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) on an assignment for ChinAfrica, then a new magazine launched by Beijing Review.

"This gave me a deep emotional feeling about Africa and coming here again has rekindled it," she says.

In the three months after launch, some 90 percent of the 800 stories put out by CCTV Africa were locally generated and she says the feedback has been good.

"CCTV is increasingly becoming a familiar brand. Many more people know it and we are confident of Africa being another step in its future development," she says.

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