How China Won the War Against Western Media

How China Won the War Against Western Media

At Foreign Policy, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian looks at how the Chinese government has used a combination of propaganda and censorship to discredit Western media in the eyes of the Chinese public, and asks whether China is indeed singled out for negative coverage.

Chinese state media outlets or government spokespeople frequently claim that Western media purposely and systematically misrepresents China. The number of Chinese state media articles on this subject is astronomical — but here is a recent sampling. A popular November 2015 article posted on the state-run website had the headline, “After the Paris terror attack, Western media is actually smearing China?” The state-run and reliably nationalist Global Times frequently features articles on its homepage criticizing U.S. and foreign media coverage of China. On Feb. 23, the headline featured at the top of the site was “U.S. Media Again Hypes South China Sea Facilities.” After a rundown of the latest development in the disputed maritime territory, the article declared that “respective Western media hype is simply a rehash of the ‘China threat theory’” – the idea that China’s rise could destabilize the regional or global order. 21CN, a news portal operated by state-owned communications giant China Telecom, even has an entire microsite, called “How China Has Provoked Western Media,” dedicated to documenting what it calls Western media’s “misconceptions” of China. “There are truly too many examples of China being maliciously misconstrued,” reads the microsite’s introduction. […]

[…F]or many Chinese, tightly scripted domestic media is the only kind of news available. Chinese government regulators have blocked, in whole or in part, the websites and Chinese language editions of many major media outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and Le Monde. Only those who regularly surf the Internet using software designed to circumvent online controls are able to access blocked sites — meaning most Chinese hear about such foreign news coverage through the lens of domestic Chinese news, which dominates the airwaves, online news, and social media. When a Chinese person, who has lived for years in a media environment that consciously portrays U.S. media outlets as biased, then reads regular negative coverage of China in these outlets, the belief may be confirmed. [Source]

Chinese accusations of Western media bias are, as Allen-Ebrahimian argues, “a vital aspect of information control” under the current administration. Similar charges are laid against other foreign observers: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Hussein was recently rebuked for making “irresponsible comments in disregard of facts [… in] a biased, subjective and selective way,” as was the E.U. for voicing “irresponsible [and “not constructive”] criticism about China’s handling of judicial matters.” Authorities have complained that “opinions held by the U.N. Committee Against Torture are based on uncorroborated information,” after blocking most efforts to gain corroboration. The current trend of televised confessions has also been used to serve this goal: that of Swedish legal NGO worker Peter Dahlin, shown on state broadcaster CCTV, included the statement that human rights reports were “compiled via online research and could not reflect reality [….] Not seeing some cases myself, I cannot guarantee they are true.”

President Xi Jinping’s recent statements on media policy mark the latest phase of ongoing effort to strengthen the government’s hold on the media and its narrative. These began last month with Xi’s visit to the headquarters of three leading state news organizations, during which the president called for absolute loyalty from state media outlets. At China Media Project, David Bandurski presents a translation of “Xi Jinping’s View On News and Public Opinion,” a People’s Daily compilation of related remarks by Xi from 2013 and onwards. The following are excerpts on the “Party character” of the media and its role in governance:

*The Party’s news and propaganda work is a major matter for national governance and national peace and stability (党的新闻舆论工作是治国理政、定国安邦的大事)

The Party’s news and public opinion work is an important work matter for the Party, a major matter for national governance and national peace and stability. [The Party and the media] must grasp their position [and role] with the overall work of the Party as the point of departure, and accommodating situational developments domestically and internationally; [They must] adhere to the leadership of the Party, adhere to correct political orientation, adhere to a work guidance of people at the core, respect the principles of news and communication, innovate their methods, and effectively improve the propagation force (传播力), guiding capacity (引导力), influence (影响力) and credibility (公信力) of the Party’s news and public opinion. — February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party’s News and Public Opinion Work Conference

[…] *[The media] must uphold the Party’s leadership of news and public opinion work (要坚持党对新闻舆论工作的领导)

The Party’s news and public opinion work must adhere to the principle of the Party character, cleaving fundamentally to the Party’s leadership of news and public opinion work. Media run by the Party and government are propaganda positions of the Party and the government, and they must reflect the Party (必须姓党) [lit., “be surnamed Party”]. All work of the Party’s news and public opinion media must reflect (体现) the will of the Party, mirror (反映) the views of the Party, preserve the authority of the Party, preserve the unity of the Party, and achieve love of the Party, protection of the Party and acting for the Party (爱党、护党、为党); they must all increase their consciousness of falling in line, maintaining a high level of uniformity (高度一致) with the Party in ideology, politics and action. All must uphold the unity of the Party character and people character (党性和人民性相统一), ensuring that the Party’s theories and policies become conscious actions among the masses, reflecting the experiences of the masses and the real situation facing them in a timely manner, enriching the spiritual world of the people [NOTE: this refers to such cultural life and entertainment], and enhancing the people’s spiritual strength. — February 19, 2016, Speech to the Party’s News and Public Opinion Work Conference [Source]


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