China goes into the world news business

Published on Le MondeDiplo, by Pierre Luther, April 2011.

China would like the world to see the news its way. And it’s willing to pay big money to set up news media in those places from which the West is withdrawing cover

If soft power is the ability to influence ideas and behaviour, news and its global diffusion are among soft power’s strategic components. The People’s Republic of China has launched a campaign of seduction, prestige and omnipresence in countries where, for lack of money or interest, former big media players are disappearing. There are cooperation agreements, plus free news bulletins, text articles and radio programmes, and the creation of media. 

CNCWorld, a rolling news channel in English, was launched by the Xinhua (New China) Press Agency on 1 July 2010 in Beijing, and broadcasts on satellite, internet and mobile phone. Its goal is to “present an international vision with a Chinese perspective”, according to its director Li Congjun; it wants to compete with the US’s CNN and the UK’s BBC. CNCWorld’s ambition is to be present on all continents and to add news bulletins in Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, Arabic and French.

The channel was created after the Chinese government’s announcement in January 2009 of a project estimated to cost $6bn, covering China Central TV (CCTV); the Xinhua Agency; and People’s Daily, the international English-language version of the Communist Party organ Renmin Ribao. The finance was motivated by a desire to improve China’s image abroad and to make Beijing’s voice carry. These media are completely dependent on the central government, via the State Council’s Information Office.

In contrast to western media – even those financed by a public licence fee, whose directors are appointed by the authorities – the Chinese media’s editorial line expresses only the government’s diplomatic directions. Beijing’s objective is to broadcast its news everywhere, without worrying about profitability. This also involves radio, especially in Africa, where it is the main source of news. On 27 February 2006 Radio China International (RCI) inaugurated an FM channel broadcasting in Chinese, English and Swahili in the Kenyan capital Nairobi (home to Xinhua’s African head office since 1987) – over 5,000 km from Beijing. This was the first of about a hundred radio stations. In August 2010 RCI opened offices in Dakar (Senegal) and Niamey (Niger) with the ultimate goal of broadcasting in French, Chinese and local languages.

In Africa, people now learn about EU decisions through the news from the 10 or so correspondents of Xinhua’s Brussels bureau. And it is increasingly through Xinhua and its partnership agreements that Cameroonians follow developments in Chad, the Congolese follow those in Tunisia, and Zimbabweans those in Senegal.

South-South exchange: … //

… Xinhua, which was called Red China News Agency until 1949, is not just a press agency. In China, where it is considered to be “the ears, eyes, throat and tongue of the Party” (2), it has an absolute monopoly over news broadcasting and depends entirely on the authorities. Its rank is that of a ministry. Since it has no commercial objective, unlike the global press agencies Agence France-Presse (AFP), Britain’s Reuters and American Associated Press (AP), its mission is strategic. AFP covers 65 countries with 110 bureaus and 50 correspondents; Reuters has 150 correspondents; and AP has bureaus in 72 countries. In 2009 Xinhua had 100 bureaus; by July 2010 it had 130. This policy of expansion will, according to Newsweek, eventually mean Xinhua has 6,000 journalists outside China (3). (full long text).

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