Mozambique

Vulnerable
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
Notable
31 85
Local Resilience & Response
Low
25 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Ellie Young and Dércio Tsandzana

 

  • Growth potential for direct Chinese media influence: Beijing’s media influence in Mozambique was established through a series of content-sharing and cooperation agreements with both state-owned and private media that began prior to the coverage period of 2019–21. Most Chinese state media content reaching Mozambican audiences is distributed indirectly via local outlets. However, vectors for direct media influence may increase as the country’s digital transition progresses.
  • Limited public impact: Chinese state media targeting Mozambicans produce content only in Portuguese, limiting their potential audience. Portuguese is spoken by less than half of the population despite being the official language, with fluency concentrated among the political and economic elite. Some public opinion polling shows that support for China as a model for state development has fallen since 2015, and that general awareness about Chinese investments or development aid in Mozambique remains low (See Impact and public opinion).
  • Cooperation and narrative alignment with state media: State-owned media outlets in Mozambique—such as the news agency AIM (Agência de Informação de Moçambique), the television station TVM (Televisão de Moçambique), the radio broadcaster Rádio Moçambique, and the daily newspaper Jornal Notícias—have long-standing ties with Chinese media entities. They report favorably on China and its bilateral relationship with Mozambique. Signed articles by the Chinese ambassador are regularly featured in Jornal Notícias, which is the country’s largest newspaper by circulation, and his comments are published more frequently than those of other nations’ diplomats. Political elites such as President Filipe Nyusi have closely aligned themselves with Beijing’s preferred talking points, and this alignment is reflected in the friendly coverage of China by progovernment media (See Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives).
  • Small Chinese diaspora: The Chinese diaspora in Mozambique is relatively new and small, with members likely numbering in the thousands. Local Chinese-language content aimed at this community is mostly produced by Beijing-friendly social media accounts (See Chinese diaspora media).
  • No disinformation campaigns: There was no evidence of Chinese state-backed disinformation campaigns that targeted or reached news consumers in Mozambique during the coverage period (See Disinformation campaigns).
  • Deepening presence in distribution infrastructure and media governance norms: Chinese companies have a significant presence in the content-distribution infrastructure in Mozambique and are positioned to expand in the coming years. The telecommunications firm Huawei has built data centers for e-government services and held technical training sessions for local officials. StarTimes built a significant portion of the country’s digital television infrastructure and upgraded broadcasting equipment for state-owned television and radio stations, favoring state-controlled outlets over private media. StarTimes also broadcasts satellite television in Mozambique, though its local operations were shuttered as part of an ongoing lawsuit in February 2022 (See Control over content-distribution infrastructure).
  • Private media and civil society resilient: Private media in Mozambique are pluralistic, and formal legal protections for freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information are supported by an active civil society sector. Some local journalists and researchers have published critical commentary and analysis about Chinese investments, economic activity, and propaganda (See Resilience and response).
  • State threats to media independence: Government pressure on the media has led to a broader culture of self-censorship, and the industry suffers from a number of regulatory weaknesses. There are no rules curbing partisan or political ownership of media, or ownership across multiple media formats. Mozambique also lacks a specific governing framework or regulatory body to oversee broadcast media, though a new broadcast law and a revised press law were expected to be implemented in 2022. A Supreme Council for the Media ostensibly protects press freedoms, but its independence and effectiveness have been questioned. There are also no laws explicitly governing public-sector advertising. All these factors undercut the development of sustainable independent journalism (See Vulnerabilities).

header2 Background

Mozambique has a status of Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2022, the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual report on political rights and civil liberties.1 Multiparty elections were introduced in 1994, but the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) has remained in power without interruption since the country’s independence in 1975, allowing it to establish considerable control over state and societal institutions, including the media. Corruption is a significant concern. Members of the military and powerful business figures regularly exert improper influence over decisions related to foreign investment in the oil, gas, and agriculture sectors.

State-run outlets dominate the Mozambican media and provide coverage that is favorable to the government. There are some independent outlets, but journalists frequently experience government pressure, harassment, intimidation, and occasional violent attacks, which encourages self-censorship. Radio is the main source of news for most Mozambicans, followed by television and then print outlets. Internet and mobile-phone penetration rates are low by global standards, and only about 10 percent of the population are active on social media.2

Diplomatic relations between China and Mozambique were established on June 25, 1975, the day Mozambique became independent from Portuguese colonial rule. The FRELIMO party and President Filipe Nyusi have pursued close ties with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), using their own influence over the country’s political and media systems to advance that goal. In 2016, Mozambique became the first African country to sign a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership agreement with China.3 Mozambique is a member of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC),4 the Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries (Forum Macao),5 and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).6 China is Mozambique’s second-largest export partner, and Mozambique runs a trade deficit with China.7 China is reportedly Mozambique’s largest source of foreign investment, including concessional financing and loans, and holds some $2 billion of the country’s roughly $20 billion in total debt.8

In recent years, Beijing has financed prestigious construction projects such as the Maputo-Katembe Bridge, a national stadium, and a new Foreign Ministry facility.9 It was quick to provide disaster relief after Cyclone Ida struck in 2019, and it continued to send humanitarian aid to Mozambique during the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020.10 The Chinese government has arranged the donation or sale of a significant proportion of Mozambique’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, in addition to sending medical aid teams and equipment.11 In March 2021, Beijing agreed to write off about 2 percent of Mozambique’s debt as a pandemic relief measure.12

The Chinese expatriate and diaspora community in the country is small. A 2007 study published by China’s State Council Information Office estimated that there were around 1,500 Chinese people in Mozambique.13 Although China’s economic presence has increased since then, the Chinese population appears to have shrunk; the 2017 national census recorded 1,161 Chinese residents in Mozambique.14 More recently, Mozambique’s Agency to Promote Investment and Exports (APIEX) estimated that more than 10,000 Chinese citizens were living in the country, though this number is unverified.15

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

Chinese officials and state media regularly stress the strong mutual political trust in bilateral relations with Mozambique, which they argue were forged in “arduous struggles for national independence and liberation,”1 building on the shared anticolonial and Marxist history of the two countries’ ruling parties. During a state visit by President Nyusi to Beijing in April 2019, CCP leader and Chinese president Xi Jinping referred to the relationship as a “traditional friendship of ‘comrades and brothers.’” He emphasized Mozambique’s important position along the BRI’s Maritime Silk Road and its role as a partner in the development of China-Africa relations more broadly.2

Bilateral economic ties are framed as “win-win” development, and Chinese state media coverage of major investment projects often glosses over local criticisms and controversies, which include concerns about corruption, violations of labor rights, and environmental degradation.3

Following Xi’s public declaration of victory over absolute poverty in 2020, a regular theme in Chinese state media has been China’s ability to serve as a partner and model for global poverty reduction.4 This narrative is often elaborated through articles promoting Chinese-Mozambican agricultural technology cooperation and China’s role in a national digital transformation project.5 Chinese state media regularly stress the importance of deepening people-to-people ties and mutual learning between the two countries, highlighting the Confucius Institute and a new building for the Media Arts Institute at Eduardo Mondlane University, as well as a Mozambique-China Cultural Center that is described as the largest Chinese-built cultural center in Africa.6

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Beijing’s deployment of vaccines in Mozambique has been repeatedly highlighted by diplomats and state media, and it aligns well with ongoing public health cooperation efforts. The propaganda push has been assisted by President Nyusi, who is vocal in his expressions of thanks to the Chinese government for vaccines and other medical aid.7

Key avenues of content dissemination

The Chinese state media presence in Mozambique is minimal, and its development is hindered by the fact that it does not produce any content in local languages apart from Portuguese, which is spoken by slightly less than half of the population.8 However, Beijing has successfully co-opted political elites who exert significant influence over the media sector. As a result, both state-owned and privately owned progovernment media in the country report favorably on Chinese activities. According to one journalist interviewed for this project, “The public media supports China, as the FRELIMO party founded the state and supports the public media.”9 Specific avenues for the dissemination of Chinese state media narratives and content are described below.

Chinese state media cooperation with Mozambican state outlets: China’s official news agency, Xinhua, maintains a bureau in Maputo and has established content-sharing agreements with state-owned news outlets, such as the daily newspaper Jornal Notícias and the television broadcaster TVM. Because of its physical presence in the country, Xinhua Português is arguably the most significant Chinese media outlet in Mozambique, though it likely has a limited audience, as it is only available online. While Xinhua Português produces some locally focused content, most of its coverage is dedicated to news from China or other Lusophone countries.

Given the common Portuguese colonial legacy and language proximity between Mozambique and Macau, a special administrative region ruled by China since 1999, media from Macau have also played a role in content partnerships. The Macau public broadcaster Teledifusão de Macau (TDM) signed cooperation agreements with TVM in 2012 and the state news agency AIM in 2014.10 It was agreed that TVM and AIM would introduce TDM and China Central Television (CCTV) content in Mozambique, and that TDM would also promote Mozambican programming in Macau and China. The agreement between TDM and AIM reportedly included a journalism training component.11 In 2021, TVM opened a new digital center that was built and equipped with Chinese investment.12

Subsidized press trips: Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, journalists from TVM, Jornal Notícias, and AIM took part in media training sessions and other subsidized travel opportunities in China. According to one journalist with knowledge of these trips, it was generally understood that their broader purpose was to increase positive reporting on China and to promote good relations between China and Mozambique. In one case, the journalist reported being invited to cover an event in China with visiting Mozambican officials. “We were paid to write about the event,” he said, adding, “They gave us material like T-shirts, USB keys, and brochures for our work.” 13 Another journalist remarked that those who attended subsidized visits and educational programs “today are influenced to cover positively on China.”14

StarTimes as a content distributor: The PRC-based PRC-based StarTimes Group—a privately owned satellite company that has close ties to the CCP—has become one of Africa’s most important media companies with 10 million subscribers across 30 countries, including in Mozambique.15 In 2014, StarTimes Mozambique, the local subsidiary of the Beijing-based satellite television company StarTimes, began broadcasting Chinese soap operas on a channel called Sino Drama.16 Since 2020, ST Sino Drama has been broadcast by the publicly controlled TMT Mozambique, which operates the country’s digital television network.17 StarTimes Mozambique broadcast both CCTV and China Global Television Network (CGTN) alongside other regional and international news channels, and CGTN is also available locally via the Angolan satellite television network ZAP.18 StarTimes Mozambique was also heavily involved in the government’s campaign to shift from analog to digital television transmission (see Control over content).

Cooperation with private media, including Grupo SOICO: CCTV and Grupo SOICO, Mozambique’s largest privately owned media group, signed a cooperation agreement in 2014.19 Grupo SOICO operates STV, Mozambique’s largest private television station, as well as the Maputo daily O País and the radio station SFM.20 Beginning in the last quarter of 2021, STV began broadcasting a weekly program about Chinese culture that is believed to be produced in collaboration with Chinese state media.21 According to a content analysis of O País’s China coverage that was carried out between 2012 and 2014, the newspaper carried few “critical or negative articles involving China or the Chinese.” More broadly, the analysis found that major newspapers’ positive coverage of China tended to correlate with their alignment with the Mozambican government.22

Chinese embassy communications and public diplomacy: The Chinese ambassador to Mozambique, Wang Hejun, who assumed his position in 2020, published at least eight signed articles in Mozambican media outlets in 2021.23 The embassy also coordinated the release of a special issue of the magazine Negocios to commemorate the centennial of the CCP in July 2021.24 Following the launch of a mass vaccination program in Mozambique in August 2021, the Chinese ambassador published a signed article in Jornal Notícias titled “China scientifically traces the origin of the COVID-19 virus,” as part of Beijing’s global effort to deflect blame for the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan. Wang noted that China had “taken the lead” in providing vaccine assistance to Mozambique and argued that virus traceability issues must be investigated without political manipulation, indirectly hitting back at international calls for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.25 Given the low internet penetration in Mozambique, Chinese diplomats have not invested in building up locally focused social media accounts.

Local political elites: Because of the CCP’s warm relations with FRELIMO, Mozambican political leaders at the highest level regularly repeat Beijing’s preferred talking points. For example, during a videoconference summit of world political parties hosted by the CCP in July 2021, President Nyusi, who is also the head of FRELIMO, said that the experience of the CCP is a “source of inspiration” for the world, while FRELIMO secretary-general Roque Silva Samuel praised the CCP for its “people-oriented philosophy” and lauded its “crucial” role in combating COVID-19 worldwide.26

In addition to the above avenues of content dissemination, China Radio International (CRI) content in Portuguese is available over shortwave radio and online, but it is not broadcast on local radio stations. Independent analysis in 2019 suggested that CRI Portuguese had ended its radio news programming.27 The website of CRI Portuguese, which is aimed at Lusophone audiences worldwide, also has very low engagement, with fewer than 30,000 monthly visits.28

Disinformation campaigns

For the purposes of this report, disinformation is defined as the intentional dissemination of false or misleading content, especially through inauthentic activity—such as the use of fake accounts—on global social media platforms. No significant China-linked disinformation campaigns were found to have targeted or reached news consumers in Mozambique during the 2019–21 coverage period. Social media usage rates in the country remain low but are increasing rapidly.29

Censorship and intimidation

There were no documented incidents during the coverage period in which pressure or threats from the Chinese government led Mozambican journalists to censor their reporting. However, there is a general sense that because the CCP is close to the ruling FRELIMO party, the activities of CCP-linked companies in Mozambique are protected from criticism, whether through editorial controls exercised by FRELIMO or journalists’ fear of government reprisals.30

Mozambican media coverage of China-related news with no direct connection to the bilateral relationship—including human rights violations and CCP domestic policy—is extremely rare. For example, the privately owned O País reported on Hong Kong’s prodemocracy protest movement in 2019 and 2020,31 but it did not cover other topics such as human rights violations in Xinjiang.32 Public media outlets do not cover subjects that may be sensitive to the Chinese government, and journalists writing on matters related to Chinese investment may feel obliged to self-censor. Private outlets have reported on China-related corruption cases and illegal exploitation of natural resources,33 but there was at least one instance in which an evening rebroadcast of STV’s reporting on the China-linked destruction of natural resources in Gaza Province was blocked at the behest of the government.34

Control over content-distribution infrastructure

Chinese companies are important partners for the development of information technology and communications infrastructure in Mozambique. The Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE, which both have close CCP ties and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad, have worked closely with the Mozambican government since 2006. They provide equipment and technical assistance to the state-owned Tmcel and the multinational Vodacom, which dominate Mozambique’s small but growing telecommunications sector.35 Mozambique’s mobile penetration rate is only about 50 percent.36 Industry analyses estimated that Huawei held about 10 percent of the mobile market during the coverage period.37

In 2020, Huawei and the Ministry of Transport and Communications renewed their pact to develop Mozambique’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector, with Huawei agreeing to provide infrastructure, training, and technical support to accelerate the country’s digital transformation. Huawei has built data centers in Mozambique since 2015 and will be involved in the shift to fifth generation (5G) mobile networks.38 Chinese investment has been critical in expanding citizens’ access to affordable internet and communications equipment and bolstering the government’s campaign to digitize the media sector.

The local subsidiary of StarTimes played a leading role in building Mozambique’s digital television infrastructure. In 2016, StarTimes Mozambique, in which the family of a former Mozambican president held a minority stake, won the bid to implement the country’s National Radio and TV Digital Migration project.39 This was cofinanced with a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China as part of a 2015 initiative spearheaded by Xi Jinping to connect 10,000 villages across 25 African countries.40

Local media reported in late 2020 that the new network had expanded digital signal coverage from 50 to 70 percent of the total population of 31 million.41 In addition to building a national digital television network, the project involved the construction of a digital television production center for the state broadcaster TVM in Maputo as well as equipment updates for nine provincial studios.42 Such projects gave the state-owned outlet and its government-friendly narratives a competitive advantage over independent private media.

Separately, following a handover ceremony in December 2020, Chinese state media reported that StarTimes had expanded the country’s satellite television transmission network to cover 2.5 million rural residents.43 Unlike in some other African countries, StarTimes has not privileged Chinese state media over other news outlets—as it has been criticized for doing in some other countries44 —BBC Africa and local private outlets such as STV are also available on the most affordable satellite television packages. However, Mozambique’s digital signal provider, the state-controlled TMT Mozambique, has been criticized for charging private companies unaffordable rates for signal transmission and raising the cost of access to digital television. An investigation by the media monitoring group MISA Mozambique also found that the process through which StarTimes won the bid to support Mozambique’s digital migration had been opaque and noncompetitive.45 Mozambique began turning off analog television transmitters nationwide in September 2021 and aims to increase the geographic coverage of national digital television networks to 85 percent by 2024.46

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

Prior to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple Mozambican journalists from the public-sector outlets TVM, Jornal Notícias, and AIM took part in media training trips to China that lasted up to 10 months and sometimes involved educational exchanges with Chinese counterparts or an internship component. Beijing has prioritized sponsoring journalist visits from developing economies around the world to promote “constructive journalism,” a positive, government-friendly model for news reporting, and declared the goal of bringing 1,000 journalists from Africa to China between 2015 and 2020.47 According to one journalist with knowledge of these trips, Mozambican participants went to “study the Chinese system and how to report about it.”48 Some of the training content included television production techniques and oral expression.

Both Huawei and StarTimes have provided technical training courses for Mozambican officials and technicians involved in the country’s digital transformation. For example, a 2021 Huawei course aiming to “cultivate talents in the field of digital economy and build a platform for the exchange of technical talents” trained 150 public officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Defense, Interior, and Labor.49 An analysis by the China Africa Project (renamed the China Global South Project in June 2022) argued that such training programs demonstrate the growing scale of China’s business-to-government ties and public-private partnerships with local actors, and serve as a vector for advancing Chinese norm-setting ambitions in technology and other fields.50

Chinese diaspora media

The Chinese diaspora population in Mozambique has historically been small and understudied. It is served by at least one Chinese-language media outlet, Mozambique Chinese News (莫桑比克华人报), which appears to publish only on the Chinese social media platform WeChat.51 In 2019, the founder of Mozambique Chinese News gave a keynote address to the First African Overseas Chinese People-to-People Diplomacy Forum in which he stressed that Chinese “culture and propaganda” have not kept pace with increasingly close trade and economic ties with Africa. He said Chinese media must work to deepen mutual understanding, “spread Chinese culture and tell Chinese stories well,” and “give full play to their role as a link” between China and Africa.52

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Broadly pluralistic media protected by law: Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and citizens’ right to information are all protected by Article 48 of the constitution.1 During the coverage period, media outlets and individual journalists reported on a broad range of topics and criticized the government and political leaders, and the majority of critical articles did not result in retaliation.2 The media are regulated by a 1991 Press Law that reflects constitutional guarantees, though updates to the law were under discussion as of early 2022 (see Vulnerabilities). A 2018 analysis by the African Media Barometer found that although it faced significant challenges, the media sector in Mozambique overall “operates in a legal context that allows for both freedom of expression and press freedom.”3
  • Media regulation: The Supreme Council for the Media (Conselho Superior da Comunicação Social, or CSCS), an independent statutory body, is tasked with upholding media freedoms, though its actual autonomy and effectiveness have been questioned. The National Institute of Communications (INCM), which is subordinated to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, oversees telecommunications and broadcast media. While the Information Office (Gabinete de Informação, or GABINFO) oversees all media registration and regulation, in practice some legal ambiguities have affected the transparency of media ownership.4 The current Press Law restricts foreign ownership in domestic media companies to 20 percent.5
  • Vibrant civil society organizations and media activism: A variety of civil society organizations have historically sought to participate in policymaking on media issues. Groups such as the National Community Radio Forum (FORCOM), the Mozambique branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA Mozambique), and the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) have all worked to support community media, which play a major role in providing independent and diverse sources of information, particularly outside of urban areas.6 Digital rights activists have also promoted the use of social media to bolster freedom of expression, as exemplified by the citizen journalism project Txeka, which developed out of a 2014 public election-watch effort.7
  • Access to external news sources, including international and diaspora media: Media outlets and individual journalists reported on a broad range of topics during the coverage period, including stories that featured criticism of the government, FRELIMO, and political leaders.8 Content from foreign news services such as Voice of America (VOA) Portuguese, Deutsche Welle Portuguȇs para África, and Portugal’s Lusa News Agency is often used in Mozambique, providing local audiences with coverage on an array of international subjects. In addition, several media organizations that offer platforms for journalists in the Mozambican diaspora, such as Global Voices and the London-based Zitamar News, cover news developments inside the country, including stories related to Chinese investment and influence.9 Zitamar News has continued to report on a politically sensitive armed conflict in Cabo Delgado Province despite government restrictions on press access and the expulsion of the outlet’s founder and editor in 2021.10

China-specific resilience

  • Critical coverage of Chinese economic activities and local corruption: Privately owned media outlets and civil society groups have published critical commentary and analysis on Chinese investment projects, including costly and ill-conceived “white elephant” projects such as the Chongoene airport and the Maputo-Katembe Bridge.11 Although China’s domestic governance and broader foreign policy were less covered by local media, the privately owned O País reported on popular protests and activist arrests in Hong Kong.12 Both international news organizations and local media have covered Chinese involvement in often-illegal activities related to extractive industries, such as poaching, fishing, and logging.13 The media have also covered connections between China-linked actors and local corruption allegations, such as the involvement of Valentina Guebuza, the late daughter of a former Mozambican president, with StarTimes Mozambique.14 In 2021, multiple outlets reported on a case in which illegal shipments of Mozambican hardwood destined for China were recovered as part of a joint operation between the two countries’ authorities.15 Independent academics have supplemented news reports with research into how illegal Chinese business practices have exacerbated the Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado.16
  • Civil society scrutiny of Chinese influence: Civil society actors such as the Center for Public Integrity (CIP) play an important role in informing and augmenting investigative journalism. For example, in 2021 CIP reported on the dangers of Mozambique’s “hidden debt” owed to China and pressured the government to improve its financial transparency,17 provoking a defensive response from Chinese state media, which claimed that the study was “exaggerating.”18
  • Court injunction against StarTimes: In February 2022, it was reported that the Maputo city court had ordered the seizure of StarTimes Mozambique’s assets after a local consultant firm, Development Distribution Services (DDS), complained that it had failed to honor a contract worth $3 million.19 Because StarTimes had already handed over control of the national digital migration project to TMT, that project was unaffected. However, the company’s satellite operation services in Mozambique were halted and its servers were switched off.

header5 Vulnerabilities

  • Lack of expertise on China: There is not a high degree of in-country expertise regarding China or the CCP’s methods of information control and repression. Local media outlets have neither the interest nor the means to send correspondents to China. No reporters or commentators are dedicated to coverage of China, which—despite its heavy investment, strong trade links, and close ties with political elites—is not a priority issue for news consumers. A few academics have published studies on Chinese state influence, including one report on media influence.1 Eduardo Mondlane University hosts a Confucius Institute, and interviewees have suggested that Chinese state funding contributes to prioritized dissemination of CCP-backed programming on Chinese language and culture.2
  • Limited media professionalism and capacity for development: The state of investigative journalism in Mozambique is fragile, and issues related to ethics and professionalism remain a challenge for the media more broadly, affecting the quality of content. Although some organizations have issued codes of conduct, such as the Journalistic Code of Conduct that was approved by SNJ in 2012 and a Code of Conduct for Election Coverage by MISA Mozambique and SNJ updated in 2019,3 these are not well enforced in practice. Media professionals have access to a growing number of training opportunities, but some have said that these courses are mostly theoretical and do not meet journalists’ needs in terms of developing new technical skills.4
  • Gaps in media regulation, flaws in pending legislation: Mozambique has no specific rules limiting concentration of media ownership or cross-ownership of different media formats, and there are no laws restricting ownership of media outlets by political parties or other partisan entities. Moreover, Mozambique does not have a specific broadcasting law or a regulatory body for broadcasting. As a result, broadcasting regulation has been left “in a situation of extreme legal uncertainty and insecurity,” according to a panel of experts surveyed in 2018.5 There are no laws governing public-sector advertising, and in practice almost all advertising by public bodies is published in the state-owned Jornal Notícias, the national newspaper with the highest circulation. This has skewed market dynamics in the press sector and made it more difficult for smaller publications to compete. Revisions to the Press Law that were under discussion at the time of writing drew criticism from civil society and international press freedom advocates. Related new provisions on broadcasting were expected to ban rebroadcasts of political content from international outlets and impose further restrictions on foreign media.6 The draft legislation could also impose a new system of licensing for journalists. Discussing the proposed changes in May 2021, President Nyusi said that reporters must work with “rigor, professionalism, and patriotism,” and that “the Mozambican journalist should not be a reproducer of wishes contrary to our unity,” raising concerns that the government was attempting to impose a system of “positive” and noncritical journalism similar to the Chinese model.7
  • Attacks on media freedom: Although there are no official restrictions on critical coverage of the government per se, journalists have reported that the government and FRELIMO exert significant pressure on all forms of media and have taken retaliatory action against reporting or commentary on sensitive topics when unspecified limits are crossed, particularly in relation to the conflict in Cabo Delgado.8 A journalist disappeared while reporting from the province in April 2020.9 Two others were detained for four months in 2019 and later faced charges in relation for their reporting in Cabo Delgado. A foreign journalist covering the conflict was expelled on spurious grounds in February 2021, and international media outlets have found it increasingly difficult to gain access to the area.10  Outside of cities, community media and especially community radio stations have played a significant role in expanding access to information in local languages across Mozambique. However, they face a variety of operational and funding difficulties,11 and they will likely encounter new challenges amid the country’s digital transformation, which has privileged state-owned broadcasters with new equipment and training. In addition, tighter restrictions on the registration of new media outlets since 2018 have created significant bureaucratic obstacles for private media.12 Reporters and media outlets investigating allegations of corruption have also faced lawsuits and attacks. The authorities’ continued application of the Law on Crimes against the Security of the State and the Law on State Secrets, in addition to criminal defamation laws, have led to a widespread culture of self-censorship.13

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

The CCP’s influence in Mozambique is most powerfully mediated through its relations with the political elite. President Nyusi is one of the strongest voices promoting Beijing-friendly narratives to Mozambican audiences. His support was illustrated by his remarks at the videoconference summit of world political parties hosted by the CCP in July 2021, in which he praised the BRI, cited China’s crucial role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, and called the experiences of the CCP “an inexhaustible source of inspiration to accelerate scientific and technological innovation, intensify the culture of hard work and integrity, as paths that will lead us to overcome poverty and build peaceful and prosperous nations.”1

A 2019 analysis of nongovernmental elite opinions found that perceptions of China were closely linked to a deep cynicism about local corruption, in light of the ties between the ruling parties of both countries.2 Apart from the limited presence of Chinese state media in Mozambique, other efforts to increase Chinese influence have had a limited impact. The Confucius Institute established at Eduardo Mondlane University in 2011 has had uneven success in overcoming linguistic and cultural obstacles to the promotion of Chinese-language education and combating a broader lack of knowledge about China.3

Limited public opinion polling from Afrobarometer shows a slight decline in perceptions of China’s governance and development. In 2021, 21.7 percent of respondents thought that China was the best model for Mozambique’s future development, down from 36 percent in 2015.4 A similar proportion of respondents thought that economic and political influence coming from China (68.1 percent), the United States (64.2 percent), and South Africa (65.4 percent) was positive in 2021, possibly indicating support for foreign investment and influence more generally.5 Although 49.5 percent of respondents thought that China’s activities in Mozambique had either some or a lot of influence on the economy, only 2.2 percent thought that Chinese was an important language for young people to learn, potentially reflecting a lack of interest in deeper engagement.6

header7 Future trajectory

The following are potential developments related to Beijing’s media influence in Mozambique that should be closely monitored in the coming years.

  • Deepening relationship between Chinese and Mozambican state media: In addition to examining the effects of Chinese-supplied equipment and training associated with the digitization campaign, researchers should monitor any increase in subsidized trips and educational exchanges for journalists after COVID-19-related travel restrictions are eased. To counter such CCP influence, democratic governments and civil society groups should invest in capacity-building opportunities of their own that would provide journalism training grounded in principles such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the rule of law.
  • Growing adoption of Chinese digital technology and governance norms: Increasing internet usage and social media adoption will impact community and private media outlets, reshaping the media ecosystem in Mozambique. President Nyusi has made clear his intention to reform the country’s press laws to promote “patriotic” journalism, and Chinese technical support for state-owned media has given them a significant advantage. At the same time, government officials have occasionally discouraged negative reporting on Chinese activity in the country. The closer alignment of political priorities between the CCP and FRELIMO could reduce the already-precarious permissive space for independent media. Civil society and journalists should document incidents of censorship or retaliation stemming from reporting on China and Chinese investments in Mozambique, in addition to other politically sensitive topics.
  • Closer government ties with Chinese companies: Nominally private Chinese-owned companies play a major role in the Mozambican government’s digital transformation campaign and have increased their provision of training programs and vocational education for digital workers and government officials. These programs will help to build capacity and prepare workers for a more modern economy. But they are also likely to serve as a vector for deepening Chinese influence and even the transfer of norms and tactics related to censorship and content manipulation. Given their potential impact, the programs should be further investigated.
  • Preelection media controls, with possible assistance from Beijing: The Mozambican government may leverage digital technologies, including digital surveillance of activists and opposition politicians, to influence media coverage ahead of elections in 2023 and 2024. The 2019 elections were marred by violence against the opposition and widespread allegations of fraud, and a European Union observer mission criticized FRELIMO’s unfair exploitation of state resources to influence and intimidate voters.1 Opposition-aligned media outlets have previously raised concerns about the government’s use of Chinese-made technologies to surveil citizens and intercept private communications.2 Moreover, online outlets and social media, which currently face few content restrictions, could be subjected to greater pressure or interference as the country’s user base continues to expand.

On Mozambique

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  • Global Freedom Score

    43 100 partly free

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Front pages of the China Daily (left), the Beijing News (center), and the Global Times (right) featuring reaction to the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, which took place on April 15, 2019.

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The title screen of a program called “How Xi Jinping Pursues Happiness For People” from the CGTN archive is seen as it plays on a computer monitor in London.

Methodology

More on the research, country selection, and scoring for Freedom House’s BGMI report.

Kuala Lumpur – July 5, 2019 – People take part in an event in front of the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur in solidarity with the Uighur community in China and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the riots in Urumqi that left nearly 200 people dead.

Acknowledgements

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