What ‘established’ African media houses can learn from the Chinese

With precision, algorithms — integrating social media — deliver news consumption data that editors use to pinpoint how content is doing in exact locations. This enables editors to make decisions like tweaking, and dropping stories.

That the tour by African media practitioners coincided with the unveiling of the world’s first Artificial Intelligence news reader by Xinhua goes to demonstrate the galloping pace of digital media in China.

How has China rapidly climbed the ladder in digital media?

The uptake of Web-based technology is but part of the larger Chinese digital economy that has seen firms like Alibaba become global powers in e-commerce.

DIGITAL ECONOMY

A 2017 research by McKinsey Global Institute found that three factors propelled the Chinese digital economy, encompassing its media: “a large and young market enabling rapid commercialisation of digital business models; a rich digital ecosystem; and the government allowing space for companies to experiment through research and development”.

The digital media revolution is on course largely because more than 700 million people have access to reliable Internet. Commuters on the Beijing subway are always busy on their phones.

Add to this the strong, unitary media system underwritten by the party-state. Only in April, the China Media Group was established as a merger of the CCTV, China National Radio and China Radio International.

DIGITAL MEDIA

The comparatively low uptake of digital media in Africa is essentially a function of a digital economy that is often spoken of from the perspective of potential rather than reality. Even though research shows an uptick in mobile telephony, Internet penetration remains low.

A number of African countries have targeted mobile telephony for heavy taxation.

Perhaps a more compelling factor as to why African countries will be hard put emulating China is with regards to variances in media systems between the two regions.

MEDIA ECOLOGY

Whereas Chinese regulators manage and control their media ecology, most African countries operate a quasi-liberal system, meaning established media entities are subject to market forces.

This worsens the situation in which most media establishments operate within national borders rather than having sub-regional or continental reach.

For established African media, solutions lie in rapid adoption of technology and mergers and acquisitions that can create mega entities to leverage economies of scale.

Dr Wekesa is a media and geopolitics scholar at University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa: bobwekesa@gmail.com

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