Frustrated with what it believes is an anti-China bias in foreign media, Beijing is trying to improve its image abroad, partly by controlling or influencing the way it is portrayed in the media, WallStreetJournal reports.
The Chinese government has spent lavishly on an effort to expand the reach of its official media organizations, including launching an American branch of state broadcaster CCTV that aims to mimic the success of Al-Jazeera, the report said. It has also increased restrictions on foreign media inside China.
A new study from the Center for International Media Assistance traces the Chinese government’s influence on Western media in and outside of China, as well as Chinese-language media and other outlets in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The Center for International Media Assistance is part of the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting democracy funded by the U.S government.
“With more than half of China’s population now accessing the Internet and some political content going viral despite domestic censors’ efforts, the Chinese Communist Party’s nervousness of overseas news trickling in has increased,” wrote Sarah Cook, author of the study and an analyst for Freedom House.
The study identifies four ways China uses pressure to influence media outlets outside of China: direct action by Chinese officials to punish overseas outlets that fail to heed Chinese restrictions; economic incentives to induce self-censorship among media; indirect pressure applied through proxies like other foreign governments or advertisers; and cyberattacks and physical assaults that the report said are not conclusively traceable to Chinese authorities.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that it and the New York Times were subject to attacks by Chinese hackers.
The report also looks at Chinese influence in overseas Chinese media as well as in developing countries across Southeast and South Asia, Latin America and Africa.
It references a separate report from the Center for International Media Assistance that describes direct Chinese government aid to state-run media in Africa and Latin America, training programs that bring journalists from countries in those regions to China on free trips, and the multi-billion dollar expansion of China’s state-run media groups globally.
Overreach from Beijing has occasionally been counterproductive in the U.S. In 2012, Chinese diplomats asked an Oregon city to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to take down a mural he painted on a private building advocating independence for Tibet and Taiwan. The town’s mayor declined, citing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, eliciting cheers from many on Twitter and in articles online.
The report encouraged all media outlets to be transparent about pressures faced from China, and took governments to task for not doing enough to protect journalists.
“Foreign governments should respond vociferously to assaults and visa delays of foreign correspondents holding their citizenship,” the report said, adding that foreign governments should use diplomatic options to signal that visa delays for foreign correspondents are unacceptable.
“To date, the response from Western governments to growing harassment of international media in China has often been timid,” the report said.