StarTimes moves quickly to adapt to COVID-19 crisis in Africa


Play episode:

Fake news and all sorts of misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic are now rampant on African social media. Reports that Bill Gates wants to test a new vaccine on African people or that the surgical masks donated by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma are infected with COVID-19 are now seemingly everywhere, leaving individuals confused about which sources of information are trustworthy, and which are not. 

The Chinese-owned African pay-TV giant StarTimes sees an opportunity amidst this burgeoning information chaos to position itself as a trusted source of news and information about the virus. The company has moved quickly over the past several weeks to launch a variety of new initiatives connected with the ongoing health crisis. 

The company now offers educational programming in Uganda and Kenya targeted at students who can no longer attend school due to the lockdowns. Similarly, the company launched a new edutainment program called Mindset Learn on its popular ST Kids channel. It has also added new health features on its mobile app that allow users who are not feeling well to determine if they may in fact have COVID-19. Most importantly, it has created a new daily news update, broadcast in multiple languages, which focuses entirely on COVID-19.

This signals an important change for the company’s strategy. Until now, Star Times only carried other channels, such as the BBC and France 24, rather than produce its own editorial programming. And with access to more than 30 million homes in 37 different countries, it has a huge platform and more direct access to African consumers than any other Chinese company.

Dani Madrid-Morales, an assistant professor at the Jack J. Valenti School of Journalism at the University of Houston, is among a handful of scholars around the world who research StarTimes and is carefully monitoring the company’s rapidly evolving corporate strategy in this new COVID-19 era.

Dani joins Eric and Cobus to talk about the company’s new COVID-19-focused programming and the potential risk that this news program may get sucked into the bitter dispute between China and the rest of the world over accountability for the COVID-19 outbreak.