Who Set the Narrative? Assessing the Influence of Chinese Global Media on News Coverage of COVID-19 in 30 African Countries

The size of China’s State-owned media’s operations in Africa has grown significantly since the early 2000s. Previous research on the impact of increased Sino-African mediated engagements has been inconclusive. Some researchers hold that public opinion toward China in African nations has been improving because of the increased media presence. Others argue that the impact is rather limited, particularly when it comes to affecting how African media cover China-related stories. This article contributes to this debate by exploring the extent to which news media in 30 African countries relied on Chinese news sources to cover China and the COVID-19 outbreak during the first-half of 2020. By computationally analyzing a corpus of 500,000 written news stories, this paper shows that, compared to other major global players (e.g. Reuters, AFP), content distributed by Chinese media (e.g. Xinhua, China Daily) is much less likely to be used by African news organizations, both in English and French speaking countries. The analysis also reveals a gap in the prevailing themes in Chinese and African media’s coverage of the pandemic. The implications of these findings for the sub-field of Sino-African media relations, and the study of global news flows are discussed.