CCTV: Coming to America

At Foreign Policy, Alex Pasternack explores the efforts of China’s state broadcaster to penetrate the U.S. market.

“Foreign audiences expect to hear stories about China from Chinese media, and CCTV has nothing to say about the two most important stories of the year?” asked Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and free speech advocate [referring to Chen Guangcheng’s escape and the fall of Bo Xilai]. “Why would an American audience want to listen?”

Since the U.S. bureau began broadcasting in February, CCTV’s fresh cast of reporters and producers have been struggling to answer that question. Based out of a sparkling new office in Washington, the service comprises a block of news on CCTV News, the network’s recently-revamped 24/7 English-language channel, and covers a range of U.S. and international stories with a cast of 60 reporters, producers, and technicians who have experience at established news organizations like CNN, CBS, and the BBC. Long news pieces, Western accents, slick graphics, live stand-ups in foreign locales, and prominent guests (the likes of Thomas Friedman and Tom Brokaw have appeared on a weekend evening talk show called The Heat), emanate a feel of credibility that has long been absent in CCTV’s dull, starchy news coverage. “They were saying ‘we want you to be doing breaking news and investigative pieces’ and this was the first time a lot of the senior people in China had heard this,” Barbara Dury, a former 60 Minutes producer who now runs CCTV’s Sunday newsmagazine program Americas Now, said of initial discussions with top CCTV officials. “And they were asking, ‘how’s this all going to play out?'”

[…] “I remember when Al Jazeera started, people called it ‘the terror network,'” said [The Heat host, Mike] Walter. “But now, years later, they’re producing really quality stuff that’s being recognized. That’s what I hope for CCTV. I think it will just get better.”

Pasternack notes that the network’s reticence on China’s domestic affairs is only part of the story, pointing to a report on Cuba’s “democratically questionable” elections and quoting The Atlantic’s James Fallows, who wrote in April:

I don’t know how representative the shows I’ve seen are, or how long this can go on — but flipping back and forth between CCTV America and a well-known US network based in Atlanta, I’ve generally heard a lot more, and in a lot more detail and less tendentiously and cutesily, from, gasp, CCTV America. I’m not even comparing it with some other networks, including the one run by Roger Ailes.

[…] This is not something I expected, nor — on the basis of a couple nights’ viewing — that I’m sure how to react to. I will follow its evolution, and I invite you to check it out for yourself. Meta-point: I have been very bearish on contemporary China’s ability to exercise “soft power,” since its efforts have so often been so Onion-like. This seems different, and for China-watchers and people in general is worth paying attention to.

See also Mark MacKinnon’s thoughts on China Daily’s parallel expansion and two sides of the argument over the effectiveness of China’s global soft power push, via CDT.


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