A growing interest in China’s relations with Africa and, more generally, its global media “going out” campaign has catalysed a relative explosion of studies exploring Chinese news content made in or for Africa. Up until now, this body of scholarship has avoided systematic review. This paper presents the results of a comprehensive scoping review of the literature’s empirical studies (n-22) which I conducted using best-evidence synthesis, an approach which marries the systematic quantitative approach of meta-analysis with the detailed qualitative style of narrative reviews. My review highlighted a number of lacunae in the literature, occasioned by a tendency towards particular methodological approaches. These included: the use of content analysis as a primary research method in the vast majority of studies; a narrow geographical and events-based focus for sampling; and an overwhelming interest in content produced by China Central Television/China Global Television Network (CCTV/CGTN), rather than, for example, the Xinhua News Agency or Chinese newspapers. Research into representations of nations beyond Kenya and South Africa or into mediums besides television was particularly scarce. Where research went beyond these confines it was generally focused on particular events, such as the 2015 West African Ebola epidemic. I argue that this constitutes an insufficient foundation from which to make any well-grounded and generalisable conclusions about what type of news content Chinese media produces for or about Africa.
Moreover, I contend, these methodological choices are both produced by and reproduce various problematic assumptions about Chinese media in Africa. The scholarship’s focus on Kenya and South Africa, for example, is often justified on the basis that these nations are key Chinese partners, but may also reinforce the assumption that Chinese media are only interested in covering regions of Chinese political interest. Similarly, the content analyses which were reviewed commonly applied the tripartite classification of news content as “positive,” “negative,” or “neutral” as a priori operational definitions. This was often justified by the importance of “positive” reporting in Chinese journalism more generally, but ultimately lacked the nuance to avoid misclassifications: for example, news stories concerning war and security issues were often labelled “negative” regardless of their slant. This obfuscates the power relations present in the processes of journalistic production, which would be better understood through other methods, such as critical discourse analysis. Finally, the focus on the medium of television – embodied by CCTV/CGTN – was, arguably, the result of an academic paradigm shift which occurred when CCTV opened its Nairobi production hub in 2012 that has continued to influence studies to this day. However, since television in Africa remains the preserve of a relatively small group of well-educated urban elites, this focus may reproduce a problematic understanding of China’s intended audience in Africa: the majority of Africans continue to digest their news through alternative mediums. This paper, therefore, challenged the literature’s assumptions to argue for a more pluralistic methodological approach in further research. This includes, particularly: a wider geographical and non-events-based focus; a broader focus on alternative news mediums; and complementary methods to content-analysis.