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The Chinese Government’s Influence on the U.S. Media Landscape

On May 4, 2017, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) held a hearing, “China’s Information Controls, Global Media Influence, and Cyber Warfare Stategy.” Sarah Cook from Freedom House provided testimony outlining the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) strategies in spreading its propaganda overseas. Although her report was in English and not Chinese, her findings are important, so Chinascope has included them in a briefing.

The CCP’s Propaganda efforts have taken three primary forms:

1) Aggressive attempts to expand state-run media outlets’ reach and influence inside the United States. These efforts have included high-profile initiatives like Xinhua news agency’s advertisements in Time Square, the appearance of China Daily newspaper boxes on streets in major U.S. cities, and the launch of China Central Television (CCTV) America—recently rebranded as China Global Television Network (CGTN) America. In the Chinese-language media sphere, this effort has been going on for over 20 years, resulting in CCTV being accessible to over 90 million households in the United States and a series of free pro-Beijing newspapers displacing the earlier dominance of Taiwan and Hong Kong-affiliated papers.

2) Insinuating state-media content into mainstream media or other existing dissemination channels. Chinese officials and state-media reports have referred to this strategy as “borrowing the boat to reach the sea” (借船出海). This phrase refers to disseminating Chinese state-media content via the pages, frequencies, or screen-time of privately owned media outlets that have developed their own local audiences. This strategy has a long history of use in the Chinese-language environment, such as via the provision of Xinhua newswire content for free. In recent years, its robust expansion to English-language media has garnered much attention and public debate. One of the most prominent examples has been the emergence of China Watch—a paid insert sponsored by the state-run China Daily—that has appeared both in print and online in prominent U.S. papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. In November 2015, a Reuters investigation revealed that programming from the state funded China Radio International (CRI) was appearing on stations in 15 U.S. cities, including Washington DC, via intermediaries of a privately owned media group.

3) Co-opting or partnering with privately owned media to produce and publish content that serves Beijing’s aims: Not all pro-CCP propaganda appearing in U.S. media necessarily originates from writers and editors at Chinese-state run media outlets. Rather, Chinese diplomats and other officials have gone to great lengths to develop “friendly” relations with private media owners and reporters, encouraging them to produce their own content that promotes key narratives favored by Beijing. Outlets and diaspora media owners whose reporting portrays Beijing positively are frequently rewarded with advertising, lucrative contracts for non-media enterprises, joint ventures, and even political appointments. In several instances, Chinese state-media have also purchased small financial stakes in overseas media to solidify such a relationship. Examples of these dynamics are evident in two media entities whose content is disseminated in many parts of the United States. First, the above-mentioned Reuters investigation revealed that only part of the content aired on radio stations owned or leased by CRI’s U.S.-based partner G&E Studio originates from CRI. Other segments are produced by G&E Studio itself in California. Nevertheless, their messaging matches that of Chinese state propaganda. A second example is that of Phoenix TV, the second most widely available Chinese-language television station on cable in the United States. Owned by a former military officer with close ties to Beijing officials, Phoenix TV’s coverage is typically favorable to the CCP.

Censorship and other attempts to suppress the spread of information deemed undesirable by the regime have taken a variety of other, often more subtle forms.

– Direct action by Chinese diplomats, local officials, security forces, and regulators both inside and outside China. These measures obstruct news gathering, prevent the publication of undesirable content, and punish overseas media outlets that fail to heed restrictions.

– Economic “carrots” and “sticks” to induce self-censorship among media owners and their outlets headquartered outside mainland China.

– Indirect pressure applied via proxies—including advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments—who take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing.

Source: USCC, May 4, 2017
https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Sarah%20Cook%20May%204th%202017%20USCC%20testimony.pdf

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