French Journal For Media Research

Peinan Wang

One Africa, Two stories: Comparative Analysis of CNN and CGTN’s African News

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1Abstract: This paper focuses on CNN and CGTN’s African news, analyzing the differences of framing in these two international news media outlets based on the concept of “the Others”. The study finds that the different news frames and coverage perspectives of CNN and CGTN represent the conflicts and (re)balancing of different international news powers in the era of globalization.
Key words: international news; African news; CGTN; CNN; the Other
Résumé : Cet article propose une analyse comparative des rapports de CNN et de la CGTN sur les thèmes des rapports africains et analyse les différences entre leurs concepts et cadres des rapports du point de vue de "l'autre". Leurs différents horizons de reportages représentent les conflits et les équilibres des différentes forces de presse internationales à l'ère de la mondialisation.
Mots-clés: Presse internationales; Nouvelles africaines; CGTN; CNN; l'autre


2Since World War II, the international flow of information and news has been severely imbalanced. A few countries, relying on their economic and technological advantage, control the production and dissemination of international news, constructing the contemporary international news landscape centered on the West. The international news and information dissemination pattern, led by a few Western countries, directly affected the establishment of international order after World War II, which made most developing countries “absent” or “muted” in the global public sphere.

3But, in recent years, the power of the global south (mostly refer to developing countries) s represented by Al Jazeera, Russia Today, and CGTN have gradually sprung up in international (television) news, challenging the existing international news and flow order of information. These phenomena were summarized as the “contra-flow” of international news (Thussu, 2006). The contra-flow of international news is based on the post-colonial discourse, focusing on how developing countries use the news to shape their cultural identities and role in the international community. The tendency described by contra-flow represents, to some extent, the efforts of developing countries to reshape the imbalanced international news order.

4In the dominant discourse of international news, developing countries outside the West have been portrayed significantly different from Western countries in history, culture, social customs, and political systems, and thus have been shaped by the Western media as “the Other”, opposite to the West, which is considered more civilized (Said, 1978). One of the significant meanings of contra-flow is to break down and reconstruct the discourse of “the Other” in international news and thus reshape the image of non-Western countries in international society. This paper, taking the influential international television news network CNN and China’s first international television news network CGTN as examples, analyzes the African news of CNN and CGTN in the theoretical framework of “the Other”. By comparing the similarities and differences between the two media outlets’ African reports, this paper discusses the development and transformation of international news in the era of globalization.

African News: A mirror of Western-centrism

5In the international news discourse dominated by Western media such as CNN, media outlets established a series of binary oppositional frameworks such as “developed–developing” and “democracy–authoritarian”, depicting developing countries’ social cultures and traditions as ancient and uncivilized conditions. Said summarized this state as “the Others” or “othering”, believing that Western countries have constructed an imagined “Orient”, which is inferior to the West, through international media, and thus have strengthened the superiority of the West. In Western media, only when the “Orient” shows a non-threatening, peculiar, exotic custom does the West praise Eastern culture (Cumings, 2009).

6Therefore, the essence of “othering” in international news is a mixture of mysterious aesthetics and demonized ugliness: the process of constructing the “Orient” as the imaginary opposite in the Western context through its de-normalization description. The imbalanced structure of information production and dissemination in the international communication order and the othering cognitive approach are mutually reinforcing, comprising the major form of international news development since WWII.

7In addition to the othering of the Islamic world in American media as criticized by Said, Africa is another area deeply influenced by Western-centralism in international news. A series of studies beginning in the 1970s show that the international media coverage of Africa is narrow-minded and full of stereotypes and binary oppositional frameworks (Bunce, 2016). For both the U.S. television news and British broadsheets newspaper, Africa was shaped with “widespread violence, helpless human rights violations and a lack of democracy (Fair & Parks, 2001)”. De Beer (2010) summarized the international media’s African news coverage as “bad news syndrome”. He believes that the global audiences’ negative cognition of Africa has largely been formed by this news coverage over a long period of time.

8As expressed by Said’s analysis of Islamic news in Western media, narratives and discourses play a significant role in constructing normativity and value in human society, causing media to evolve certain images and values into stereotypes in ongoing news coverage and audiences to accept them as “common sense” (Said, 2008). In this widely-used model of othering in news coverage, the Western world ostensibly believes that Africa is a failed region that requires external intervention and assistance and understands African issues in negative frameworks and tones.

9Considering the contemporary international information and news order dominated by the Western world, Africa is a mirror in which Western countries can reflect their own systems and cultural advantages, which is intentional depicted as “the Other” in a binary framework of “democracy–authoritarian”, “developed–developing” and “civilized–uncivilized”. This trend has been criticized by scholars as “African pessimism”(de B’béri & Louw, 2011). Research shows that news based on “African pessimism” has a strongly negative impact on the perception of Africa by young people (Borowski, 2012). Since this discourse structure is stable and consistently reproduced, scholars believed that this deep-rooted, negative narrative has little opportunity to be changed or challenged (Brookes, 1995).

10However, with political stability and economic development in Africa, a growing number of African journalists have been gradually trying to challenge this narrative. Nanjala Nyabola, an African-American researcher at Harvard Law School, believes that Western media’s coverage on Africa is almost always wrong or biased. On the one hand, Western journalists’ experience and knowledge structures cannot provide enough background for them to explain African issues comprehensively. On the other hand, language and cultural barriers restrict many Western journalists from doing deep, investigative reports (Nyabola, 2014). Therefore, he believes that international news about Africa needs to let Africans tell their own stories and construct a new “African narrative”.

11In recent years, with the emergence of new narratives such as “Africa rising” in African society, African politicians, businessmen, and social organizations hope to establish a more positive African image in international society. Scholars believe that the emergence of some transnational media organizations from Russia and China provide a different perspective in their international reporting on Africa, challenging the existing African narratives dominated by Western media (Bunce, 2016). Based on their point of view, this paper analyzes the CNN and CGTN’s Africa news to find out more specifically how these “different perspectives” are presented.

CNN and CGTN’s African news

12As important media outlets in international news, both CNN and CGTN focus heavily on African news coverage. CNN’s regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is an important base to cover the African issues. Besides, CNN has also built regional branches in five African cities: Cairo, Johannesburg, Kabul, Lagos, and Nairobi. Based on CCTV Africa, the predecessor of CGTN, the Chinese news outlet established the CGNT Africa Division (CGTN Africa) in 2016 to report directly to audiences in Africa.

13In addition to building up channels and branches all around Africa, CNN and CGTN have also improved their influence on new media platforms. Both of them have established accounts such as “CNN Africa” and “CGTN Africa” on Facebook and Twitter. CGTN, at the same time, has established accounts on YouTube and Instagram to provide more visual content of Africa on social media. Along with the power transition between traditional media and social media platforms, social media is replacing the traditional mainstream media and becoming the new “gatekeeper” for international news (Meraz & Papacharissi, 2013). The influence of CNN and CGTN on social media platforms has also increased, which makes them gradually become the main way for audiences to find information and news on Africa.

14Take Twitter as an example. CNN’s African news account, @CNNAfrica, was established in 2009. Up until June 2019, they have posted 8939 tweets and have 742,000 followers in total, and represent part of CNN’s global news coverage network. CGTN’s African news account, @cgtnafrica, was established in 2012. At present, it has posted 64,900 tweets and has 129,000 followers. It is an official account of the CGTN Africa television channel. The tweets’ content from the two accounts is largely from the African news of CNN and CGTN, so it provides an effective sample for analyzing the framing of two news outlets in African news.

15To compare CNN and CGTN’s African news, I collected the tweet content from @CNNAfrica and @cgtnafrica between January 1st, 2019 to March 31st, 2019 by the API of the content analysis software Nvivo with the link of the full text of news content. After deleting all invalid tweets (advertising, promotions, and international issues not related to Africa), the research sample was set. A total of 1245 tweets were crawled on @cgtnafrica, with an average of 13.8 per day. On @CNNAfrica, a total of 473 tweets were crawled, averaging 5.2 per day. It is obvious that CGTN has a much higher update frequency on Twitter than CNN, which means that it is more active on social media.

16Through the content analysis of CNN and CGTN’s African news, this paper focuses on the dimensions of “nation visibility” and “news frames” to analyse how news media from China and the U.S. depict the Africa to the world in different ways. Regarding nation visibility, it will compare how frequently Africa countries occur in CNN and CGTN’s news and perform correlation analysis to discuss the potential causes of differences between the two media outlets in terms of nation visibility in combination with international relations and trade data. Regarding news frame, this paper encodes from the theme and sentiment tendency of news in the sample, discussing how CNN and CGTN depict Africa when covering various issues.

Nation Visibility: Where does African News Focus

17Nation visibility is a widely-used concept in the study of international news flows, referring to the frequency of occurrence of a country in the news (Jones et al., 2013). Considering that the international news production and communication order are dominated by the West, non-Western countries are largely depicted and shaped by Western media, so “nation visibility” also affects the perception of different African countries in international society. In previous studies, scholars have found that economic strength, population, geographic proximity, and bilateral trade development are the main factors affecting a country’s visibility in the US media’s international news (Golan, 2006). To a certain extent, this result reveals that American international media is highly involved in “American-centrism”, and its international news is essentially based on the needs of their own overseas political and economic interests. However, it is still unclear whether the Chinese international media, like CGTN, has similar features.

18The names of the African countries were used in this chapter as a coding indicator to analyze the nation visibility of the country in the CNN and CGTN in African news (Table 1). The “number of occurrences” in the table refers to how many times the specific countries were mentioned in samples. The “ratio” refers to the frequency with which the countries occurred in all samples (number of occurrences/samples). The table presents the top 24 countries according to nation visibility.

19Table 1: Nation visibility of CGTN and CNN in African news



number of occurrences


number of occurrences

















DR Congo










South Africa































































































20Comparing the data in the table above, it is clear that the social media content from CNN (M=17, SD=28.54) is highly focused on a few countries, such as Nigeria, Gabon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and South Africa. Nigeria’s news comprises 26.54% of CNN’s tweet content over three months, while countries such as Somalia, Libya, Morocco, and Zambia have almost disappeared in CNN’s African news. In comparison, CGTN (M=44.4, SD=27.16) has smaller standard deviation in nation visibility, which means that CGTN’s African news extensively covers more African countries in a balanced way. CGTN not only surpasses CNN in terms of the amount of social media content, but also presents a more comprehensive African image, with more African countries appearing in international news.

21How does one explain the differences between CNN and CGTN in their African news? Based on previous scholars’ studies, this paper analyzes the correlation between nation visibility and population (nation’s scale) and bilateral trade (between African countries and China/U.S.). I collected the population data in 2018 from the website “World Population View”, and sorted the above 24 countries by population (World Population View, 2018); bilateral trade data of “US–Africa” and “China–Africa” was collected from the US Census Bureau’s website (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018), and China’s Ministry of Commerce’s website (Minister of Commerce, 2018) respectively. Using the data above, the population and trade volumes were ranked and used to perform the correlation analysis with the rank of nation visibility.

22Using the spearman rank correlation, this paper analyzes the three groups of ordinal variables above, and the result is in Table 2 (CC refers to “Correlation Coefficient”).

23Table 2: Result of spearman rank correlation

Rank of population

Rank of bilateral trade

CNN nation visibility

CC: .450*

Sig: .027

CC: .457*

Sig: .043

CGTN nation visibility

CC: .421*

Sig: .041

CC: .060

Sig: .801

24*Correlation is significant at the .05 level (2-tailed)

25Both CNN and CGTN have a significant correlation between nation visibility and population, indicating that both of them prefer to cover the news from big countries. For example, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, which have large populations, also appear more frequently on international news outlets and their social media news feeds. This trend can be explained by the close relationship between a nation’s population and its political and economic influence. However, in the relationship between nation visibility and bilateral trade, the result reveals that national visibility of CNN’s news is significantly correlated with trade volume between the US and the African country, while the correlation is not significant between national visibility of CGTN’s news and China’s African trade volume.

26From the correlation analysis, it’s fair to say that both CNN and CGTN prefer to cover large African countries’ issue. However, CNN’s African news is also largely based on the American bilateral trade relationship with African countries. The closer the economic relationship is, the more frequently the African country appears on CNN’s African news. Although CNN regards itself as an international news network, it essentially still serves American political and economic interests to some extent, focusing on a handful of countries with closer economic ties with the US. CGTN’s African news, on the contrary, focus on all of Africa, beyond the relationship between China and a few African countries who have closer economic ties with China, paying more attention to covering social dynamics in various parts of the African continent.

News frame: Constructive or “Othering”

27Although the analysis of nation visibility could reflect the differences between CNN and CGTN on the concept of news value, it does not fully present the differences in the news frames they have constructed. The frame of international news could affect the audience’s perception to a great extent, so framing analysis is necessary to analyze the CNN and CGTN’s African news in order to accurately understand the different stories they tell and images they depict about Africa.

28To analysis the news frame of CNN and CGTN’s African news, this paper encodes the samples from news themes and sentiment tendencies. In the dimension of news themes, this paper refers to the theme division of previous studies and distributed the samples into 9 categories: war and conflict, disaster and rescue, politics and election, human rights, crime, social life, economic development, sports and entertainment, and the natural environment (Brookes, 1995). As for sentiment tendency, traditional news sentiment studies prefer to sort the sentiment tendency of a news outlet into “positive”, “negative” and “neutral”. However, from the perspective of international news, the value judgment could be so controversial that different countries and audiences could have totally different perception of a news event. So, as a relative concept, “positive”, “negative” and “neutral” could not precisely summarize the sentiment tendency in international news.

29Therefore, this paper introduces the concept of “constructive news”, arguing that the sentiment tendency could be attributed into 4 different categories: “constructive”, “critical”, “conflict”, and “descriptive”. In journalism theory, conflict has always been placed in an important position by scholars. Conflict is the most attractive factor in news, and if there is no conflict and contradiction in news stories, the news will lose its value because “the story is too dull” (Bro, 2019). However, news that over-emphasizes conflict make scholars worried about the potential harm of this “hyper-adversarialism” model (Fallows, 1997). Therefore, scholars put forward the concept of “constructive news”, emphasizing that news should be more active and constructive in public events. Journalists should not only present social problems but also try to provide solutions and constructive approaches to cultivate progressive social values in their news stories (Hermans & Gyldensted, 2019).

30In the process of coding, this paper drew from the concept mentioned earlier to accomplish the coding. If the news story uses a cooperative or problem-solving frame, it is classified as a “constructive” story; if a news story highlights conflicts of interest or values between different actors in a news event, it is classified as a “conflict” story; if the news story criticizes or condemns the specific factor or actor in a story based on certain positions or values, it is classified as a “critical” story; others that have no obvious attitude or sentiment tendency towards the news stories will be classified as “descriptive” stories. The samples captured by the Nvivo are perused and encoded in the system, and the result are in Figure 1 and Figure 2.

31Figure 1 CGTN’s African news frame

Image 100002010000035D000001C4876CBA0059607A46.png

32Figure 2: CNN’s African news frame

Image 1000020100000356000001C49B030A045AE7F419.png

33Further analysis of the data in the above figures reveals that CNN and CGTN’s African news have two obvious differences in their themes and sentiment tendencies.

34(1) CNN is more inclined to use a critical frame than CGTN (15% vs. 8%), while CGTN prefers to use a constructive framework (22% vs. 18%). For example, in the news stories about recent leadership elections in African countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, and Congo in early 2019, CGTN focused more on the electoral process and the expectations of African people:

Nigerians will now vote on Saturday in the country's presidential elections. Ahead of that vote, women and youth have been expressing their expectations of the new leadership(CGTN Twitter,02/19/2019)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday that a slew of peaceful elections and truces in Africa were signs of a "wind of hope" on the continent(CGTN Twitter,02/10/2019)

35CNN, on the contrary, uses more “conflict” and “critical” frames, showing that African countries are full of chaos, rumors, and power struggles in the electoral process, as well as low voter turnouts and African people’s distrust of politicians.

Voter turnout in Nigeria's 2019 presidential election was 35.6%, the lowest since the country returned to democratic rule 20 years ago(CNN Twitter,02/27/2019)

Welcome to the Nigerian election season, where fake news and propaganda are nothing new(CNN Twitter,02/15/2019)

Votes are being counted in Nigeria’s election plagued by unrest and other problems(CNN Twitter,02/25/2019)

36The coverage of the same elections in Africa demonstrates diametrically opposed images from CNN and CGTN. CGTN tries to put the democratic process in a relatively constructive frame, presenting African people’s anticipation of the future and the expectations of international society. CNN follows the traditional coverage frame of “African pessimism” to focus on the contradictions and disputes in elections, criticizing the backwardness and chaos of the democratic process in Africa. In this specific case, Africa becomes “the Other” of the American media’s stories to demonstrate the stable and reasonable Western electoral democracy in comparison.

37(2) In terms of constructive news, CNN and CGTN use this frame with different themes. CNN’s constructive news stories are mainly on the theme of “social life”, while CGTN’s counterparts are on “politics and election” and “economic development”. The differences between the themes of constructive news stories represents different understanding of “constructiveness” between the two newsrooms. CNN’s constructive news stories narrow down the focus to a small group of Africans who meet Western values and ideology, such as Silicon Valley African-American programmers who provide learning opportunities for African children, a young Senegalese female entrepreneur, or a 19-year-old African supermodel who attracts the attention of Western fashion circles. All these individual success stories are put into narrative frameworks like “feminist” or “racism”. But, as for economic, scientific, and technological progress, CNN’s African news hardly mentions it.

“At home my husband is the boss, but here, in the salt flats, it’s me,” says Marie Diouf, a Senegalese entrepreneur who owns a salt flat where her husband works(CNN Twitter,02/14/2019)

19-year-old model Khoudia Diop struggled with bullying over her complexion. Today, it's not only her proudest asset, it has also made her an overnight social media sensation(CNN Twitter,01/31/2019)

38In contrast, CGTN’s news stories rarely involve individual success stories, but focus more on the economic and social development of African countries. Most of CGTN’s constructive news stories are about the outcomes of economic development and transnational cooperation in African countries:

Kenyans' love for smartphones fuels app development(CGTN Twitter,01/25/2019)

About 27,000 jobs were created by small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) in Zambia last year, the country's government said on Friday(CGTN Twitter,03/09/2019)

Zimbabwe gives lowest paid public workers 29 percent pay hike(CGTN Twitter,03/21/2019)

Kenya to train DRC civil servants(CGTN Twitter,02/07/2019)

39In “constructive” stories, CNN focuses on the success stories of a small group of Africans as the response to criticisms of “Other”. However, this coverage ignores that Africa, as a continent, has suffered from poverty and conflict over a long period of time and needs to improve living conditions and develop their economy at a macro level. What is more important and “constructive” is the overall progress of African countries, not individual career successes. CGTN regards “constructiveness” as the economic and social development of African countries, presenting stories like the improvement of infrastructure or public service as a way to change the narrative of “the Other” in African news.

40In addition, CNN continues its critical view and frames on the topics of human rights and crime in African news, emphasizing that Africa is still a continent full of human rights violations and political conflicts. As previous studies prove, it keeps the same tone as before in these controversial issues and continues to construct the image of Africa in the frame of “African pessimism”. Even some individual success stories do not change CNN’s bias on Africa overall.

Conclusion and discussion

41From the perspective of nation visibility and news frames, this paper argues that CNN and CGTN demonstrate different African stories and images. CNN’s nation visibility is closely related to US overseas trade volume and national interest, presenting the value of “America first”. In the news frame of themes and sentiment tendency, CNN tries to avoid the traditional discourse of othering, which is mixture of mysterious aesthetics and demonized ugliness criticized by scholars. However, this does not mean that CNN’s African news no longer provides the frame of orientalism in its stories. CNN’s African news does nothing more than transform the traditional discourse of othering into an alternative, which mixes individual success stories with universal turmoil, conflict, and poverty in Africa. It presents constructiveness in specific groups of people while ignoring the development of African countries at the macro level. The essence of CNN’s current African news is just another construction of “the Other” concealed in narratives of individualism, while the vast majority of Africans are still presented as suffering from poverty and backwardness.

42In analyzing the international image of the South Africa World Cup as a media event, Berger argues that the international media tends to depict a few African regions’ (such as South Africa) development in a romantic narrative frame, but at the same time, continues to have a pessimistic tone in terms of Africa as a whole. These incompatible “positive” and “negative” images, mixed with “African pessimism”, has become the dominant narrative in international media’s perceptions of Africa. Berger summarizes this as “noble savage” imagery, which can also be seen in CNN’s African news. This contradictory narrative has become the dominant frame in Western media’s African stories (Berger, 2010).

43CGTN, as an alternative power in international media, tries to jump out of the frame of othering constructed by Western media, depicting the development and progress of African society from a macro perspective while presenting the conflicts and problems of Africa at the same time. Compared to CNN, CGTN pays more attention to the elements that can promote the progress of Africa, such as peaceful elections, smooth power transfers, economic growth, and improvements in people’s lives, which reflects a different understanding of constructiveness. In nation visibility, CGTN also tries to go beyond the restriction of specific African countries of national interest for China, providing a more comprehensive picture of Africa and challenging the imbalanced news coverage in Western media outlets, like CNN.

44In terms of constructive journalism, McIntyre (, 2018) proposes that the specific historical background for African countries determines that its version of constructiveness is not like its Western counterpart, which underlines the significance of concepts such as feminism or racism. In the contemporary context of Africa, “constructiveness” means social stability and economic development. CNN still presents Africa in the frame of Western-centralism, but this set of progressive narratives does not meet with the social reality and urgent current requirements of African society. CGTN’s African news, which focuses more on economic development and social progress, is in line with Africa’s most urgent need for constructiveness as fast-growing continent. If CNN is “depicting Africa by the West”, then CGTN is closer to “depicting Africa by Africa,” representing the power modern international news has to help Africa rebuild its identity by itself in international society.

45CNN and CGTN’s African news in these samples present totally different landscapes of Africa, even in the same period of time. Compared with CNN, which continues the Western-centralism frame and tone of “African pessimism”, CGTN presents a different image of Africa with the concept of “constructive journalism”, which consists of economic development and social changes, trying to construct a new African image with true representativeness. It challenges “the Other” narratives constructed by CNN, which combines individual success stories with widespread chaos and conflict. The different news frames represent the conflicts and (re)balance different international news powers in the era of globalization.

46The “contra-flow” represented by CGTN is not only meant to give developing countries the opportunity to have a voice in international news, but also to challenge the existing international news and information flow order dominated by Western media. CGTN provides a “pluralism enriches globalization” like Kai Hafez (2007) expect, competing the dominated and only approach in reporting Africa. If Western media outlets like CNN are “reporting the world for America”, then for CGTN, the concept of “reporting the world for the world” should be accepted as a main value to guide its future practice in international news. As a competing power in the international news market, it may become an important factor that shapes its unique brand identity in this way.


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Peinan Wang, «One Africa, Two stories: Comparative Analysis of CNN and CGTN’s African News», French Journal For Media Research [online], Browse this journal/Dans cette revue, 13/2020 Médias : acteurs clés pour une compréhension interculturelle, last update the : 22/01/2020, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Peinan Wang

Peinan Wang is Ph.D candidate of School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, Beijing. His research interests include international communication, cultural study and media sociology. His recent researches focus on cultural hybridity in Chinese media’s globalization and journalistic role performance in global journalism.



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