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China-Africa relations

Seeing double? Chinese newspapers use identical frontpages for African summit coverage

Identical front pages, headlines and choice of pictures greet readers as media outlets make sure to toe the party line

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 5:43pm

When reporting on the latest China-Africa summit, the editors of various Chinese newspapers appear to have reached the same conclusion on how to cover the story.

Four major newspapers all followed exactly the same format when presenting President Xi Jinping’s meetings with various African leaders – in what may have been an attempt to ensure that all the visiting dignitaries were given an equal billing in state media.

The Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, military newspaper PLA Daily, Economic Daily and Guangming Daily all used the same headlines, layout and pictures, showing Xi with his counterparts from Ghana and Egypt on their front pages on Sunday.

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The trend continued on Monday with all the papers offering nearly identical front pages – the sole variation being Economic Daily, which ran a picture of Xi and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in addition to the main image of Xi with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The sense of déjà vu continued on the inside pages with a series of images of Xi shaking hands with several different African leaders.

Not only did all the papers run the same images in the same order, but the layout, article text and headlines were all identical.

Economic Daily is a newspaper run by the State Council which, as the name implies, has a heavy focus on economics, while Guangming Daily is a party organ aimed at the intelligentsia.

Wei Wuhui, an assistant professor from Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s media school, said: “It’s rare for the mainland’s top national newspapers to have front pages that look exactly the same.

“It shows that mainland media have to toe stricter lines,” Wei said.

“These media don’t care whether the public think they are not creative or not. They just follow the People’s Daily.

“The editors of these newspapers are acting cautiously to make sure they won’t make any mistakes.”

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Simon Yang, a Shanghai-based writer, said: “My comment on these papers is: great minds think alike but fools seldom differ.

“As an ordinary reader, I am most interested in how much money China gave to these African countries? How many projects has China sponsored and how much do these projects cost in total?”