Media and the Creation of Realities in Africa and China

862 views Published on 22nd August 2016

People in the world are organized and administered through geopolitical entities called “state” that have several tools of creating “realities” that are essential for sustainability. Among them are two critical symbiotic instruments of identity creation, namely the education system and the media. Both help to determine the identity of a people and what they consider to be “national interests.”

The media, operating within the context of “state” give identity to specific peoples and perform two main functions; advancing interests of state, and protecting those interests from all sorts of enemies. This implies management of the media as effective tools of creating realities in the interests of state by informing and guiding the populace to know and internalize national interests.

Powerful states try to ensure that neither the education system nor the media are hostile to perceived interests of state, irrespective of the purported ideology of the state. The education system helps to inculcate the national interests in the minds of various people. Internalizing those national interests tends to create a “natural” tendency in the minds of the managers, whether they are owners or just operators, to advance and protect those interests. This is a created reality. 

In comparative terms, the media in African countries have not had the same level of success, as in China, in helping to create appropriate realities of state. In part this is because the education systems and the media in Africa tend to be externally determined and controlled. As a result, African media managers incline towards “internalizing” foreign interests as opposed to the interests of the states in which they live and operate. The create realities of dependency and occasional disdain of African interests. In contrast, the realities that the Chinese media strive to create stress perceived Chinese national interests, whether at the domestic or international level. The challenge to African media is to create realities that are of African interests.  

Peoples in the world construct realities in two broad and inter-connected ways. These are at the level of concepts, or conceptual, and in application or implementation. All the other constructed realities reinforce or fall under the two. Very early in evolution, various peoples realized the need to administer themselves in organized geopolitical manner in order to survive or protect collective interests. Currently, although it has not always been the case, they organize and administer themselves through constructed geopolitical entities called “state.” In the construction of states, or any geopolitical entity, however, there are certain sub-realities that have to be created in order for the particular state to function in the context of itself and other states.

One of the created realities within the context of a geopolitical entity is one of identity that is accepted in itself and by the others as being distinct and therefore having rights to make independent decisions in its own interests. That identity implies at least four things. First are the geographical limitations in terms of borders and frontiers that are associated with a particular people. In themselves, borders and frontiers are constructed realities within the context of identity. Second, it implies a people with a common history, culture, and that relate to each other as one. Third is the existence of common values that are so dear to that people that they are willing to defend them from any type of attack. Fourth is the feeling and belief of being independent of other entities and therefore not being subject to advice, guidance, or orders/control by any other entity.

The fact of, or belief in, being independent is critical to the identity of people in a constructed reality called state. To act independently, however, the state should have access to or organize to manage, control or influence several tools of creating “realities” because they are essential for its own sustainability. Among them are two critical symbiotic instruments of identity creation and reinforcement, namely the education system and the media. Given that the general purpose of education in an entity is to reproduce and preserve the best of itself into the future, a state would be committing cultural suicide to allow external forces to determine the philosophy and content of the education it gives to its young. Such a development erodes ability to be independent. The erosion is deepened when the media in a state are beholden to interests that are external to the particular state. In part, this is because the media in a state are part of the state and should reflect the best of its values and interests rather than the interests of an external entity. To the extent that a given state has little influence on or control over these two instruments of identity making, it loses ability to make independent decisions in its own interests. These two instruments therefore help to determine and reinforce the identity of a people and to internalize what they consider to be “national interests” that should be advanced and defended at all times.

Each media operates within the context of a particular state in terms of geographical location, licensing, content generating, perceived interests, conceptual outlook and giving identity to specific peoples. There is no such a thing as “free” media since the only freedom is that of the “owners” within certain limitations as guided the specific state. In part, this is because the very evolution of the concept of the media started as an instrument for cementing the identity of a people. This was by informing and guiding people on their interests, dangers, opportunities, and ways of enhancing their well being. It was to perform two main functions; advancing interests of state, and protecting those interests from all sorts of enemies. This implies managing the media as effective tools of creating realities by informing and guiding the populace to know and internalize national interests. Therefore the owners, publishers, editors, or journalists who deviate from written or unwritten memoranda of understanding on particular state interests often find themselves in trouble. This happens frequently in the Euro countries as well as in those outside the Conceptual West.

One of the factors that make powerful countries powerful is their determination and ability to control and guide the educational system and their media in their own interests. They try to ensure that neither the education system nor the media are hostile to perceived interests of state, irrespective of the purported ideology of the state. The education system helps to inculcate the national interests in the minds of various people at an early age. Right from nursery days, through primary and secondary schools and the universities, they are drilled on, and made to glorify and internalize, the national interests of their home countries. They therefore grow up believing on what it is to be American, Chinese, Britons, Russian, Scandinavian, Israeli, Korean, French, German, Spaniard, or Japanese. They also grow up knowing how to react protectively when those interests are under threat. This way, the education system helps to create the reality of a specified identity for a particular people.

Internalizing national interests in the youth tends to create a “natural” tendency in their minds always to defend the state when it is under threat. This is the case especially when they become managers of various institutions within the state. And the media are critical institutions of reality and identity creations within the state. The media managers, whether they are owners or just operators, then automatically advance and protect the perceived national interests as a matter of course rather than because some person in authority tells them. This tendency is a created reality for those countries. 

Among the great powers that had several created realities in modern times is the Peoples Republic of China. Beginning in the 1840s with the British manufactured “opium war,” it experienced two broad realities, fitting into two general historical periods with 1949 as the chronological demarcation line. The media, internal as well as external, were critical to those experiences. Before 1949, the reality was that of “old China,” with an image of largely a weakling huge country that was plagued by civil commotions. It was externally dependent, subject to manipulation, and full of self-doubt. It was, for the Chinese, “a Century of Humiliation” that is repeatedly the reference point for the “new China.” After 1949, China started creating the reality of a “new China” with new politics, economic, ideology, global standing, and media outlook. To do that, the competition between foreign/external media and the internal media on what image to project as the reality of China became intense. The foreign media, particularly in the Conceptual West, projected the remnants of the “old China” in the island of Taiwan, as the reality. They largely helped to intensify the Cold War which tried to force other countries to ignore the visible reality in the mainland, to believe that an island was the mainland, and to keep “new China” out of the United Nations.

In contrast, the emerging “new China” deliberately created its own media that minimized external dependency, stressed self-reliance, and was full of self-confidence as it eventually succeeded in projecting its desired image to the rest of the world. In the process, it became the benchmark with which other countries could measure themselves. This success, manifested in at least three interconnected ways, had lasting global impact. First, people emerging from the reality of colonialism considered the “new China” to be the real China and so they forced the United Nations to change the accepted definition of China. African countries in particular made China a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Second, China’s economy became so powerful that it ended up as the engine of the global economy on which other powerful countries depend. Third, the “new China” engaged in other areas of geopolitical competition such as innovation in technology, military build-up, satellite and outer space activities, and nuclear capability. Most important, China undertook serious media self projection at the global level through its Xinhua News Agency, China Radio International, China Daily, and the CCTV complex. Its CCTV has seemingly outdone American based CNN and is probably neck and neck with British controlled BBC, and Doha’s Al-Jazeera in terms of television global reach. Its Nairobi main station, for simultaneous comparison, used to have screens of the four top global networks broadcasts. It has since removed the CNN screen as if to imply that CNN was no longer a worthy competitor. That is a created reality.

It is not the same in African countries for, generally, they have not succeeded in creating new realities for their states. In part, this is because the continent does not constitute one geopolitical entity. It comprises 54 different states, each having distinct colonial experiences that continue to affect post-colonial mind-frames. At independence, Euro countries in the West effectively became master states that turned former colonies into client states in a relationship popularized by Kwame Nkrumah as neo-colonialism. Subsequently, excessive dependency is still the order of the day for many countries and those that try to escape dependency find strong geopolitical obstacles along the way. Their media tend to be externally dependent in terms of finance, content, policy orientation, and interest projection. The media, therefore, help to perpetuate the reality of dependency which, in some instances, creates a sense of hopelessness and helplessness as the African reality.  In comparative terms, therefore, the media in African countries have not had the same level of success, as in China, in helping to create appropriate realities of state.

In part this inability to create new realities that are consonant with appropriate African interests is because the education systems and the media in Africa continue to be externally determined and controlled. As a result, African media managers incline towards “internalizing” foreign interests, mostly those of the Conceptual West, as opposed to the interests of the states in which they live and operate. In the process, some create realities of dependency and occasional disdain of African interests. While the realities that the Chinese media strive to create stress perceived Chinese national interests, whether at the domestic or international level, the realities that African media are allowed to create rarely reflect the national interests of the respective states and tend to glorify Euro interests. This may be changing as several states struggle to reassess their education and, in time, media philosophies. The challenge to African media, therefore, is to help create realities that are of African interests.  

In both regions, in African countries and in China, the media are critical in the creation of the desired geopolitical realities. The challenge is on deciding who it is that determines what that desired reality should be.  Powerful countries tend to get their way in deciding their reality while weak countries have undesired realities thrust on them. China has had both experiences. First, it had undesired realities thrust on it by the Euro powers in the century of humiliation that started with the 1840 opium war and ended in the success of the 1949 revolution. Second, it created its own reality by rejecting Euro prescriptions in almost everything. It then succeeded in becoming a major global power that others have had to pay attention to. On their part, African countries have had realities thrust on them and they are yet to find the formula for discarding the imposed realities that persist in the post-colonial period. With their educational system and media being externally influenced, key policy makers have problems separating external desired realities and internally desired realities. There, however, are variations of success in discarding the imposed realities.

By Macharia Munene

Professor of History and International Relations

United States International University-Africa.

gmmunene@usiu.ac.ke


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