Senegal

Vulnerable
Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts
Notable
32 85
Local Resilience & Response
Low
24 85
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least influence) to 85 (most influence)

header1 Key findings

Report by: Angeli Datt and Anonymous

 

  • Steady influence efforts: Beijing’s media influence efforts in Senegal remained steady during the coverage period of 2019–21, though several significant outreach efforts occurred prior to the coverage period. Several local private and state-run media outlets have content-sharing agreements with Chinese state media. Beijing continued to use Senegal as a hub to target francophone West Africa, especially through the strong local presence of China Radio International.
  • Limited impact: Chinese media mainly broadcasts and publishes in French, but French is only spoken by an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population (despite being the official language). French-language content generally reaches political and economic elites, but not ordinary Senegalese. According to opinion poll data from 2017, the most recent available, 64 percent majority of Senegalese people have a positive opinion of China; this is a decline from previous years (see Impact).
  • China Radio International presence: The most significant state media presence in Senegal is the French-language China Radio International, which has one of the most modern radio and television studios among international media in Dakar. The organization has hired and trained several local journalists to work at the studio. China Radio International Français broadcasts in French and Chinese across four FM frequencies in Dakar, where 25 percent of the Senegal’s population lives, and three geographically diverse cities in the north, center, and south of the country. China Radio International Senegal’s website received 1.3 million total visitors between 2019 to 2021 (see Propaganda).
  • Public diplomacy packaged with content-sharing agreements: Xinhua has a content-sharing agreement with Seneweb, the most popular website in francophone sub-Saharan Africa. As a part of the agreement, Seneweb publishes opinion pieces from China’s ambassador to Senegal. Xinhua also has an agreement with the Senegalese Press Agency, and China Media Group has signed an agreement with the national television broadcaster RTS. The government-owned daily newspaper Le Soleil has published pro-Beijing content uncritically (see Propaganda).
  • Limited coverage of Uyghur crisis: While online access to pluralistic domestic and international media is relatively open, a lack of coverage in local outlets about the situation in Xinjiang, the Uyghur homeland and location of atrocity crimes against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, is notable in a country whose population is 95 percent Muslim, and may suggest self-censorship. During the coverage period, there was no evidence of disinformation campaigns using inauthentic accounts that targeted or reached news consumers in Senegal. However, the Chinese embassy organized local press conferences to spread false information about human rights abuses in China, which then circulated in local media (see Propaganda).
  • Control over content infrastructure: Chinese companies have a significant position in the content-distribution infrastructure in Senegal. StarTimes, a privately owned company that has links to the Chinese Communist Party, provides satellite television and another private Chinese company controls 20 percent of the phone market share. Huawei, a company with close ties to the Chinese Communist party and a record of building censorship and surveillance systems in China and abroad, is involved in developing fifth-generation telecommunications infrastructure. Huawei equipment has been used by the Senegalese government to block access to website and the company has built a data center to house all government data. The Senegalese government has begun looking at adopting internet-control systems like the Chinese Communist Party’s (see Control over content, Dissemination of norms).
  • Media and legal resilience: During the coverage period, most resilience to the covert, corrupting, or coercive methods of Chinese Communist Party’s influence was linked with the underlying strength of the media, strong journalistic ethics, and civil society’s defense of press freedom. Some journalists working at outlets that had signed content-sharing agreements with Xinhua reported that to limit the spread of propaganda, they tended to share the outlet’s sports or lifestyle coverage instead of its political coverage. Prior to the coverage period, in 2018, the national media regulator attempted to enforce media laws in a case against StarTimes. However, its decisions were ultimately overruled (see Resilience and response).
  • Gaps and vulnerabilities: There is not a high degree of independent, in-country expertise regarding China, the Chinese Communist Party, or the party-state’s human rights situation. Most individuals with experience working on China-related issues have links with either the Senegalese or Chinese governments. There are gaps in the regulatory framework around media ownership, which is generally not transparent. Defamation lawsuits have been used against journalists reporting on Chinese investment in the country. A growing vulnerability is the increasing criminalization of press freedom, most notably through a new press code that came into force in 2021 and imposes prison sentences on journalists for defamation or publishing “fake news” (see Resilience and response).

header2 Background

Senegal is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2022, Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties.1 It is one of Africa’s most stable electoral democracies. The country’s media is relatively independent, though defamation laws continue to constrain press freedom somewhat. Many media outlets face financial pressure, creating vulnerability to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence. A number are funded or owned by politicians or businesspeople close to the government. French is the official language of Senegal but is only spoken by an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population; about 40 percent are native speakers of Wolof or other local languages.

Diplomatic relations between Senegal and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) were reestablished on October 25, 2005, after years of uneven relations that followed Senegal’s independence from France.2 As a newly independent nation, Senegal had established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1960 before switching to China in 1971. The government then switched back to Taiwan in 1995 and back again to the PRC in 2005. The government has worked to further develop political ties with China since then.

Beginning in 2017, during Xi Jinping’s second term as Chinese leader, China began deepening ties with West Africa and francophone African countries, with Senegal as the focal point for that strategy. In 2017, China invested $100 million in Senegal and the following year, Xi Jinping visited the country and signed an agreement for Senegal to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making it the first West African country to join.3 Representatives of the two countries during that visit also signed a treaty on mutual legal assistance and an extradition treaty, though neither has been ratified.4

China is now Senegal’s second-largest export market, after France.5 The Chinese government also donated and built a $53 million wrestling venue in Dakar, and financed the Museum of Black Civilizations.6 Chinese companies have further financed several major infrastructure projects, including a highway from the capital, Dakar, to the second largest city of Touba.7 Senegal is a prospective member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and a member of the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).8 In November 2021, Senegal hosted the 8th FOCAC ministerial conference, one of Africa’s biggest international conferences, and it holds the copresidency of FOCAC alongside China from 2018 until 2024.9

The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Senegal is small. A 2017 estimate from the New York Times put it at around 2,000 people, and mainly located in Dakar.10 Chinese government statistics claim there are 8,000 Chinese workers in Senegal, mainly in Dakar, working in Chinese construction, trade, manufacturing, fishing, logistics, or tourism companies, or running Chinese restaurants.11

header3 Beijing’s Media Influence Efforts

Propaganda and promotion of favored narratives

 

Key narratives

Chinese state media narratives in Senegal reflect the CCP’s long-term propaganda strategy to “tell China’s story well” and highlight bilateral accomplishments. During the coverage period, there has been an increase in promoting a more aggressive and proactive global media strategy. Chinese state media in Senegal promoted narratives that painted a positive picture of China, Chinese development in science and technology, and bilateral relations, especially economic benefits to Senegal through its relations with China.1 Economic projects built or financed by China-based companies are often touted on official accounts.

In April 2020, reports that Black Africans in China were being denied essential services amid the country’s COVID-19 response, and in some cases evicted from their homes and placed in mandatory quarantine, led to an outcry in a number of African countries, including Senegal.2 Chinese state media then began to target news consumers in Senegal and other francophone African countries with French-language content in which African students and entrepreneurs in China described the reports as false, and promoted a more positive image of Chinese authorities’ handling of the pandemic.3

State media and diplomatic accounts describe the Chinese government’s actions to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and poverty alleviation policies as successful, sometimes quoting Senegalese experts to praise the Chinese government’s efforts.4 Narratives also center on China’s “vaccine diplomacy” or COVID-19 aid to Senegal, frequently calling China the “first and most important contributor” of aid to the country.5 State accounts also pushed out propaganda in French to counter criticism of the CCP’s record of domestic human rights violations such as those in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.6

Pan-African narratives are also disseminated by Chinese state media in the country, which often criticize former colonial powers and promote the narrative that China is a friend to Africa as a former victim of colonialism.7 Ahead of the November 2021 FOCAC conference in Dakar, Chinese officials and state media promoted on social media and through relationships with local media narratives about the longstanding friendship between China and African countries, China’s economic benefit to the continent, and mutual support between the two sides.8

Key avenues of content dissemination

Chinese state media has a growing presence in Senegal. China Global Television Network (CGTN) Français and China Radio International (CRI) Français have a physical presence in the country through correspondents or a bureau, as do Xinhua and China Central Television (CCTV). CGTN Français and CCTV Chinese are available on satellite television provided by Chinese company StarTimes.

China Radio International: The most significant Chinese state media presence in Senegal is the French-language CRI. Established in the country in 2010 with support from the Chinese embassy, CRI Français broadcasts in French and Chinese across four FM frequencies in Dakar, where 25 percent of Senegal’s population lives, and from three major cities in the north, central, and southern regions of the country. Radio and television are the main sources of information in the country, as over 50 percent of the population over the age of 15 were illiterate as of 2019, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).9

After a slow start of mainly reproducing Xinhua or embassy press releases, in 2015, the Chinese management at CRI Français hired and trained Senegalese journalists and began to produce more locally relevant content. CRI also opened a new headquarters with high-tech equipment and a radio and television studio.10 It serves as a base for CRI’s production in Senegal and for CRI content across francophone Africa.11 A 2015 academic content analysis found that 50 percent of CRI Senegal productions focused on official Chinese government news and 48 percent were “on-the-spot” stories covering Chinese companies or people in Senegal and all reports are sent to Beijing for editing and approval before being aired.12 CRI Français hosts a Senegal-specific website separate from the main CRI French page, which showcases the local team and has a visitor counter showing it received 1.3 million visitors between January 2019 and September 2021.13

Public diplomacy packaged with content-sharing agreements: Chinese government narratives appear in local media through content-sharing agreements. Content on Seneweb, a Senegalese web portal that is one of the most visited websites in Francophone sub-Saharan Africa, covers a range of topics on China from Chinese government sources, international wires like Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Francophone Belgian news outlet 7sur7, and local reporters. According to an interview with Seneweb executive director Abdoulaye Salam Fall, the outlet signed a content-sharing agreement with Xinhua in 2017. He said Seneweb gets regular content from Xinhua but they prefer “covering Chinese news from content generated by non-Chinese international media outlets.”14 As a part of the agreement, Seneweb publishes opinion pieces from China’s ambassador to Senegal but they “are not paid” to publish them.

In early November 2021, Seneweb published an op-ed by the Chinese ambassador about Sino-African cooperation during the pandemic under this arrangement. 15 The article received 1,200 views—similar to other China-related content on the site, but far below the 22,000 views gained by an op-ed by the Chinese ambassador about the 20th anniversary of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) published in November 2020.16 Seneweb has also published pieces from the Chinese embassy in France, including a long article in December 2021 attacking researchers and organizations documenting human rights violations in Xinjiang; the piece received over 4,000 views.17 Several comments on the piece supported the Chinese government’s position, while others scolded Seneweb for publishing propaganda.

The Chinese embassy has also organized local press conferences to spread false information about human rights abuses in China, which has then appeared in local media. For example, in December 2021 Seneweb published an article titled, “What is said about Xinjiang does not correspond to reality.”18 The piece uncritically recounted a press conference at the Chinese embassy in Dakar, at which officials framed evidence of abuses against Uyghurs as coming from European and American media and the US Congress.

Close partnerships with Senegalese state media: The influential government-owned daily Le Soleil sometimes uncritically reprints Chinese propaganda. For example, it ran two pieces about the CCP’s centenary in July 2021 that were largely based on remarks by the Chinese ambassador to Senegal and on an address by Xi Jinping.19 It also interviewed the Chinese ambassador six times during the coverage period,20 and in March 2020 published an exclusive interview with then Chinese ambassador Zhang Xun which the embassy reposted on its own website.21 Sections of opinion pieces by the ambassador appeared on the state-owned Le Soleil have been repackaged into articles run by the national press agency, APS, and published on other news sites as articles. Le Soleil also has an agreement with the Chinese government to fund journalists to travel to China.22

APS has a long-standing content agreement with Xinhua, dating back to 1978. In July 2019, APS and Xinhua renewed their partnership agreement and committed to greater cooperation on online media during a visit to Senegal by Xinhua’s chief, He Ping.23 The Xinhua content appears to be included in APS articles about developments in China, Sino-Senegalese issues, and other topics.24 Separately, in 2018, the national television broadcaster RTS signed a deal with China Media Group to broadcast Chinese television shows and films.25 RTS has promoted pro-Beijing content, such as a countdown to Xi Jinping’s visit to Senegal in 2018.26 It has also conducted interviews with the Chinese ambassador that were later reposted on the embassy website, suggesting approval of the interviewer’s line of questioning.27

Limited social media presence: The Chinese government has a limited social media presence in Senegal. The Dakar embassy’s Twitter account (@ChineAmbassade) had 1,080 followers as of May 2022, and does not have a Facebook page.28 Content is strictly about Sino-Senegalese relations or Chinese news, and the account has not had viral posts or even significant interactions with local users. Facebook is much more popular in Senegal than Twitter, with an estimated 3.2 million users compared to Twitter’s roughly 148,000.29 The embassy’s limited social media presence on a popular local platform may be developed more with an eye toward pleasing bosses in Beijing than reaching the local population. Internet penetration in Senegal is only 46 percent, though nearly half are young people between the ages of 14 and 24, and a future strategy could try to target such users with more interesting content.30

CRI Senegal has a Facebook page with 19,000 followers.31 The more globally oriented CRI Français and CGTN Français have Facebook pages with large followers of 2.5 million and 20 million, respectively. Media in France have raised doubts about the authenticity of many follower accounts, though the pages may have legitimate followers in francophone Africa. CGTN Français has run a few ads targeting users in Senegal, according to the Facebook Ad Library.32 Their content included showcasing Chinese infrastructure, political events, or culture; anti-American posts; and just two ads related to Africa though none that were specific to Senegal.

Subsidized journalist trips: Many Senegalese journalists have been invited on trips, study tours, or scholarships in China by the government since diplomatic relations were reestablished. In 2019, approximately 30 editors, media executives, and reporters travelled to China.33 The trips stalled in 2020–21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some trips were organized with Senegalese media, while other media workers have traveled to China with pan-African cohorts. Two Senegalese journalists who went on such trips said their Chinese hosts did not offer directives about how to cover the trip.34

Role of prominent local actors: CCP narratives have also found their way into local media via Senegalese politicians and intellectuals who have repeated CCP talking points. These include discussions of Chinese-African or Chinese-Senegalese cooperation, in which they presented China as a model of economic development. In one example, a member of parliament and opposition-party leader, Mamadou Diop Decroix, penned an op-ed with an academic in 2021 in which they lauded the superiority of the CCP’s system of governance and repeated CCP talking points like Xi Jinping’s “community of shared interests for humanity,” and that China advocates for “win-win cooperation” with the world.35

Disinformation campaigns

During the coverage period, there were no documented disinformation campaign that targeted or reached news consumers in Senegal. 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.

Censorship and intimidation

There were no documented incidents of pressure or threats from the Chinese government on Senegalese journalists to censor their reporting during the coverage period, and no Senegalese news outlets are blocked in China.36 However, defamation suits and apparent self-censorship restricted free reporting on some sensitive topics related to China, and on bilateral relations between China and Senegal. For example, in February 2021, the chairman and director of publication of the daily Le Témoin, Mamadou Oumar Ndiaye, and journalist Moustapha Boly lost a defamation lawsuit brought by the minister of fishing after the paper reported that the minister had granted 52 fishing licenses to Chinese nationals illegally. The paper was ordered to pay symbolic damages of 1 West African CFA franc (a fraction of one US cent), though the court denied the minister’s request that the paper be suspended from printing for three months.37 There is no indication that the Chinese government had any role in the case.

Reporting on abuses in Xinjiang against ethnic Uyghurs is generally absent from mainstream news coverage and commentary. This is despite the fact that 95 percent of Senegal’s population is Muslim, and many Senegalese feel solidarity with Uyghurs and are interested in the topic. Some Islamic leaders raise the issue during Friday prayers. A general lack of independent and critical Senegalese correspondents in China may be one reason for the lack of local coverage. While coverage by some international outlets reaches Senegal, the Chinese government’s positions on Xinjiang are also frequently carried in local media.

Control over content distribution infrastructure

Chinese companies have a significant position in the content-distribution infrastructure in Senegal. In 2017, the Chinese government signed an agreement with the Senegalese government to provide satellite television access to 300 Senegalese villages for free as a part of Xi Jinping’s “Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages” project.38 The Chinese government awarded the tender of this project to the Chinese company StarTimes, which provides digital television to over 10 million subscribers in 30 African countries and has been implementing the “10,000 villages” project in dozens of other countries.

StarTimes has had a physical presence in Senegal’s television infrastructure for over a decade. In 2010, the company signed an agreement with the national broadcaster RTS to assist in the transition from analog to digital signals by 2015 in a deal worth approximately $118 million.39 StarTimes also acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast Senegal’s popular soccer league in 2018.40 (See Response and Resilience section for regulatory responses to StarTimes.)

Huawei has been involved in telecommunications infrastructure projects in the country. In November 2020, Senegal’s largest telecoms provider, Orange Senegal (Sonatel), conducted the country’s first fifth generation (5G) network test with Huawei hardware.41 In August 2021, researchers discovered that Huawei middleboxes deployed in Senegal were used by local authorities to block websites related to gambling, pornography, peer-to-peer sharing, drugs, and circumvention tools.42 Middleboxes are internet hardware used for different purposes, among them allowing internet service providers and businesses to monitor internet traffic and block websites.

Infrastructure designed by China-based or CCP-owned companies has made it easier for Senegalese people to access the internet. PRC-based Transsion is the largest mobile-phone supplier in Africa and owns the brand Tecno, which is the second-most popular smartphone brand in Senegal and has a 20 percent market share.43 Some Tecno phones sold in Africa and Southeast Asia have been found to come preinstalled with malware.44

Tiktok, a global subsidiary of the Beijing-based company social media ByteDance, was a popular app in Senegal during the coverage period, though specific download data is not available. It is used by ordinary people and by politicians to reach constituencies. There have been some documented cases around the world in recent years of TikTok removing or downplaying politically sensitive content, including content that violates domestic Chinese censorship guidelines, although the company has subsequently reported correcting errors.45 A media report from June 2022 based on leaked TikTok meetings raised concern that statements made by ByteDance regarding data privacy of US users were false, and more broadly called into question other statements the company has made regarding its policies.46 There was no evidence in Senegal during the coverage period of control over content-distribution infrastructure being used to marginalize critical content or amplify pro-Beijing content.

Dissemination of CCP media norms, tactics, or governance models

  • Looking to the CCP for a data sovereignty model: The Senegalese government has relied on Chinese companies to develop the country’s data infrastructure, and is exploring the adoption of internet-controls systems similar to the CCP’s. Huawei, a Chinese company with a history of involvement in surveillance and censorship in China and abroad, has been involved in building much of the infrastructure. In June 2021, Senegal’s president announced that all government data and platforms would be hosted inside the country on a new data center financed by a Chinese loan and featuring equipment from Huawei;47 he heralded it as an achievement of Sino-Senegalese cooperation.48 According to a government minister, “the Senegalese state will be sovereign in terms of data storage;” adopting the CCP’s model of requiring all data to be held in the country so the government can access it.
  • Looking to the CCP for an information controls model: Similarly, a draft bill announced by the Senegalese government in February 2021 to regulate social media platforms draws inspiration from authoritarian models of internet controls, including those used in China. According to President Macky Sall, the bill is necessary due to “abuses” online, such as hate speech and defamation. However, the proposals put forth would seriously threaten freedom of expression online.49 The bill would require platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and Chinese apps like TikTok, to open offices in the country and name a Senegalese national as the office director. That individual would be a contact point for the government to report which content the government wants censored, and if the platform doesn’t comply, they will be penalized by having the platform blocked in the country for a set period of time. The third time a platform is sanctioned would result in a total ban from operating in Senegal. Local civil society groups called for the government to abandon the draft bill, decrying it as a threat to press freedom and free association.50 The Senegalese government has also moved forward with adopting information controls similar to the CCP’s even without new legislation. In March 2021, the government ordered websites and messaging apps blocked during unrest over the arrest of an opposition figure.51
  • Journalist training with intent to promote CCP model: Subsidized journalist trainings appear to have an underlying intent to change journalistic norms. An interview with one Senegalese journalist who went on a subsidized trip to China said, “The idea behind these study trips is to insidiously but gradually [achieve acceptance of] the idea of a dichotomy between the Western way of doing journalism and a way specific to certain countries like China,” and, they added, that the Chinese principles should be held in common with African countries. 52 While it is still difficult to assess the impact of the subsidized press trips and trainings organizing by Chinese authorities, there do not seem to be visible impacts on Senegalese journalistic practices and norms. There have also been efforts to support Senegalese journalists with equipment and technology. A 2015 study found that the Chinese government had donated many computers, printers, and other equipment to various Senegalese media. A large donation to RTS to help with its transition to digital likely boosted the state broadcaster’s reach compared to private media that did not receive such assistance.53

Chinese diaspora media

The Chinese expatriate and diaspora population in Senegal is estimated between 2,000 and 8,000 individuals, who are mainly employees of Chinese companies in Dakar.54 There is no significant Chinese-language media in Senegal. Two United Front Work Department–linked groups operate in the country: the Senegalese Chinese Association (塞内加尔中国人联谊会), and the China Association for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification in Senegal (塞内加尔中国和平统一促进会). Both are led by Chinese businessman Li Jicai (李吉才) who has worked in Senegal for over 30 years and was described as China’s “civilian ambassador” during the period when Senegal had diplomatic relations with Taiwan.55 News about embassy or diplomatic events in Senegal primarily come from Xinhua Africa’s WeChat account, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ China-Africa (Chine-Afrique) WeChat account.56 WeChat is owned by PRC-based technology company Tencent, which has close ties to the CCP.

header4 Resilience + response

Underlying media resilience

  • Investigative reporting and access to pluralistic, international media: In general, journalists in Senegal adhere to journalistic ethics, and they attend regular training sessions on investigative reporting. Senegalese journalists were part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ West Africa Leaks project, in which media workers combed through leaked databases including those known as the Offshore Leaks, Pandora Papers, and FINCEN.1 Some Senegalese media outlets like digital outlets Ouestaf, Impact.sn, and the daily Libération Sénégal have contributed to major collaborative investigative journalism stories in the past few years.2 Amid the strong presence of CRI and Chinese state media, radio and television users in Senegal also have access to a wide range of content from domestic and international broadcasters with a commitment to editorial independence. For example, Radio France Internationale (RFI) continues to have a strong position in French-speaking Africa. According to a survey from 2020, RFI was the third most popular radio station in Senegal.3 RFI also opened a new headquarters in Dakar in 2019, broadcasting in the Mandinka and Fula languages across West Africa and reaching millions of listeners.4
  • Robust civil society and press freedom advocates: There are several independent civil society groups that monitor and advocate for press and internet freedom in Senegal. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without interference from state or nonstate actors, though the ability of LGBT+ groups to function is impeded by a widespread climate of hostility.5 The West African Journalists Association is headquartered in Dakar and promotes freedom of expression and the free and uncensored flow of information.6 A local journalist union, the Union of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal (SYNPICS), advocates for press freedom and journalists’ safety, and holds trainings on technical skills, covering local elections, and other issues.7 The independent pan-African fact-checking organization Africa Check has a francophone office in Senegal and has been working on tracking and verifying statements made in the public space for several years.8
  • Media regulatory framework with concerns over new press code: Senegal’s National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) is tasked with enforcing media laws. Article 69 of the country’s press code requires at least 51 percent of shares of any broadcasting company to be held by a Senegalese national, and stipulates that a foreign national cannot hold more than 20 percent of shares. There is also an independent self-regulator, the Council for Observing the Rules of Ethics and Deontology in the Media (CORED).9 However, local journalists criticized the 2021 press code for provisions they claim undermine press freedom, including CORED’s authority to suspend journalists, withdraw press cards, or eject members. The press council’s Court of Peers, made up of active and retired members of the press, are susceptible to influence by powerful figures in the government who can seek to penalize independent journalists through punitive actions by CORED. CNRA and CORED met in December 2020 to discuss media regulation strategies “worthy of a democracy.”10

China-specific resilience

  • International news wires source of critical articles about CCP activities: Senegalese news outlets have published content critical of human rights abuses by the CCP in China, and of negative aspects of Chinese investment in Senegal. 11 Outlets often republish content from international news wires or French-language media outlets, such as 7sur7, a French-language paper from Belgium. In April 2021, the daily Le Témoin published an article accusing the minister of fisheries of having illegally granted 52 licenses to Chinese vessels operating in Senegalese waters,12 although the article resulted in a defamation conviction against the newspaper (see Censorship). News outlets have occasionally covered the lack of denouncement by Senegal’s government and by Muslim leaders around the world of China’s human rights atrocities against Uyghurs.13 Demba Ba, the former Senegal National Team soccer player who played in Shanghai for several years, spoke out about Muslim countries ignoring the plight of Uyghurs in 2020, and his comments received attention in local media.14
  • Selective use of Xinhua articles to limit propaganda: While no outlet is known to have rejected or discontinued paid advertorials or other content placements from Chinese state media outlets, some journalists and editors from outlets like APS and RTS have said they avoid running some Xinhua copy on political or diplomatic topics despite content partnership agreements because it is “not interesting,” or do not want to publish propaganda. They instead turn to Xinhua copy for sports, cultural, or economic topics, they said, in order to avoid pressure from management for not utilizing content-sharing agreements.15
  • Regulatory scrutiny of StarTimes: CNRA ruled against Chinese company StarTimes in a dispute from 2018, though StarTimes and the Senegalese government have managed to sidestep some provisions of the ruling. In June 2018, the Senegalese company EXCAF Telecom filed a complaint with CNRA that StarTimes had infringed on its exclusive rights to provide digital terrestrial television (DTT). According to the complaint, StarTimes marketed DTT services and provided devices in its satellite-television services that could be used by consumers to access EXCAF’s exclusive DTT signals. In September 2018, CNRA ruled that StarTimes was operating illegally in the country on two grounds: first because it infringed upon EXCAF Telecom’s exclusive DTT rights, and second, because it was wholly foreign-owned (registered in Mauritius though a subsidiary of the Chinese company) and thus in violation of Senegal’s press code on foreign ownership.16 CNRA declared that StarTimes had carried out “their activities in Senegal in total illegality, deliberately ignoring the rules that must govern them.”17 Despite this ruling, in early November that year, StarTimes acquired exclusive rights to broadcast Senegal’s soccer league for ten years. Days later, CNRA ordered StarTimes to pay 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) in damages, but the president of the regulatory body said that StarTimes was free to broadcast the games even though it was still in violation of the press code.18 A representative of StarTimes at the same time told local media that the company had received authorization from the Ministry of Communication to continue with the 300 villages project, a deal in which the Chinese government will provide free satellite television access in Senegalese villages.19 While the regulator attempted to hold StarTimes accountable to media laws, the bilateral relationship between the two governments ultimately overrode penalties for press-code violations. In October 2021, StarTimes announced that it had launched the second component of the 300 villages project in Dakar, with a leading government official from the Ministry of Culture and Information attending the launching ceremony.20

header5 Vulnerabilities

Despite the several areas of resilience, the following are areas where Senegal remains particularly vulnerable to CCP influence or could improve media freedom and freedom of expression more broadly.

  • Limited China expertise: There is not a high degree of independent, in-country expertise regarding China, the CCP, or the party-state's human rights violations. Private local media outlets do not have the interest or means to send correspondents to China. Thus, most individuals with experience working on China-related issues have links with either the Senegalese or Chinese governments. For example, the government-owned daily Le Soleil had a correspondent in China for two years through a sponsorship with the Chinese government. Few reporters or commentators are dedicated to the coverage of China, which is also not generally a priority issue for news consumers.
  • Lack of media literacy programs: Senegal has civil society organizations working on press freedom, and hosts the francophone headquarters of a fact-checking organization. However, in contrast to many other democracies, there are few media-literacy programs to offer guidance and training to the public on how to recognize trustworthy information and fact check.
  • Gaps in media regulation: There are no laws governing cross-ownership to prevent artificial suppression of competitors, or that place limitations on political party or other partisan ownership in media. There are also no anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws. Defamation lawsuits have been used against journalists reporting on Chinese investment in the country. Additionally, there is no investment screening and review mechanism for foreign ownership or investment in the media sector nor in digital information infrastructure, which has been dominated by Huawei and StarTimes. In general, media ownership is not transparent in Senegal.
  • New criminal rules infringe freedom of expression and press freedom: While Senegal’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression, a new press code that came into force in 2021 criminalizes certain forms of expression and has been criticized by press freedom organizations.1 Under the new press code, journalists can be sentenced to two years in prison for defamation or three years for the publication of “false news,” and editors in chief or directors of publications may receive a one-year sentence for not having a certain number of years of professional experience.2

header6 Impact and Public Opinion

The impact of Chinese media influence in Senegal appears limited. Chinese state media has a physical presence in country and broadcasts and publishs in French, and the Chinese embassy and officials have opinion pieces published in French-language local outlets. However, French is only spoken by an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population, most of whom belong to political and economic elites. CRI content, which covers more local issues and employs more local journalists, is not particularly popular. According to one journalist interviewed in 2018 as a part of an academic study, “In Ziguinchor, Chinese radio is not really listened to. People don't even know it exists most of the time.”1

Generally, Chinese affairs are regarded as distant from Senegal, and there is no regular daily or weekly coverage of China by Senegalese outfits. Coverage tends to appear when there is an international conference involving heads of states or ministers. Furthermore, Senegalese citizens tend to reject propaganda media outlets, and newspapers or radio publicly known to be funded by political parties typically fail to prosper. Many journalists express skepticism of Chinese state-backed media, and some take active steps to avoid reprinting their political material.

The most recent Pew surveys show a declining proportion of people who view China favorably, from 77 percent of respondents in 2013 to 64 percent in 2017. Similarly, while 59 percent of respondents in 2013 said the Chinese government respects the personal freedoms of its people, only 50 percent said so in 2017. Nevertheless, a majority of respondents (53 percent) expressed confidence in Xi Jinping in 2017. 2

header7 Future Trajectory

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

  • Expansion into local-language content: China Radio International officials have tried to familiarize themselves with Wolof language in order to communicate better with local journalists, and reportedly some have taken Senegalese names.1 Chinese state media would have a much greater impact if they began broadcasting and publishing in Wolof and other local languages.
  • Harnessing media ownership and infrastructure for surveillance, content manipulation: Some Senegalese journalists have expressed concern about the presence of Chinese companies with close ties to the Chinese government in the media and telecommunications sectors. They expressed fear that the government of China could “control [individuals’] data” or surveil local users through involvement in data-localization schemes.2 StarTimes’ control over television infrastructure and its track record of disregarding local regulators has exacerbated concerns that it may attempt to exercise control over the content and channels available to news consumers.
  • Need to strengthen media regulation and guidance: The gaps in Senegal’s media regulation and the sector’s financial pressures could permit local businesspeople close to the CCP to set up or finance news websites that relay Chinese government propaganda. Authorities should ensure better compliance with regulations on media ownership and foreign ownership. Regulatory and self-regulatory press bodies should establish guidance on ethical standards and best practices governing engagement with foreign official media and official foreign entities. The government should reject or amend new legislation and take steps to protect press freedom and freedom of expression.
  • 1Selma Mihoubi , “L’implantation de la radio chinoise au Sénégal : une stratégie localisée aux enjeux globaux” [The establishment of Chinese radio in Senegal: a localized strategy with global challenges], RadioMorphoses , May 21, 2018, https://www.radiomorphoses.fr/index.php/2018/05/21/radio-chinoise-seneg….
  • 2Interview with journalist B working with a state-owned media outlet that requested anonymity, November 2021, Dakar.

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