The new Washington operation, its managers say, will be a hub of CCTV’s global news-gathering operations as the network launches a major expansion outside China to compete with international broadcasters such as CNN, the BBC and al-Jazeera.
China watchers see an even larger aim in China’s multimillion-dollar investment in Washington: capturing the attention and perhaps the hearts and minds of viewers throughout the United States and the Western Hemisphere. China’s ambition, they say, is to use news reporting and cultural programming to advance its “soft power,” or cultural influence, making it commensurate with the nation’s growing economic might.
China’s leaders think their country is “constrained, even contained, by the global dominance of Western media groups and Western culture,” said David Bandurski, the editor of the China Media Project, a research consortium at the University of Hong Kong.
To counter this, Bandurski said, China is “building networks across various types of media that can be used to convey [the Chinese point of view] to the world. China’s leaders hope this will help the country channel public opinion globally, offsetting what they see as overwhelmingly negative coverage of China by Western media.”
To this end, he said, China has poured billions of dollars into the international expansion of government-controlled news sources such as CCTV and Xinhua, the state wire service. Among other ventures, it funds the distribution of a state-run newspaper, China Watch, which is carried in The Washington Post and the New York Times as a monthly advertorial insert. CCTV opened a new broadcast center similar to the Washington operation in Nairobi last week.
But Bandurski and other China experts say the country’s lofty media goals may collide with the communist government’s long history of official censorship and propaganda. China’s desire for international respect and stature raises a question for its journalists: Can they report without fear or favor, free from government manipulation and second-guessing?
Those hired by CCTV for its U.S.-based effort acknowledge the challenge.They say viewers are likely to be skeptical of any news source controlled by Beijing. However, they insist that the network will have autonomy from Beijing, and that its journalists are seasoned professionals who understand the difference between government propaganda and news.
CCTV wouldn’t permit any of its officials or journalists to speak on the record for this article. Instead, the network offered a series of responses to e-mailed questions. It said its replies should be attributed to “a representative of CCTV News’ Broadcast Center” in Washington, with no names or titles attached.