China’s media elites are searching for new ways to tell China’s story abroad, and local researchers have taken note. Last week, the National Bureau of Asian Research, a U.S.-based think tank, released a report titled “Political Front Lines: China’s Pursuit of Influence in Africa.” One chapter of the report was written by Ghanaian journalist Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, who used a case study of Ghana to examine China’s strategies to influence African media. Dogbevi analyzed China’s multi-pronged approach incorporating carrots and sticks for local journalists and media officials, and investments in local and Chinese media outlets to expand the reach of state media content:
As described in this essay, Chinese companies through their foreign representatives have started engaging the local media for news items on Chinese projects and other economic activities in the country to be broadcast or reported to Ghanaian audiences. China has even started broadcasting and reporting directly into the country through Chinese-owned media outlets such as StarTimes, CTGN, and Xinhua. Some Chinese media outlets have also partnered with local media organizations to show Chinese content as well as project China’s economic and development activities on Ghanaian screens.
To increase their local influence and promote a positive image of China in the eyes of Ghanaians through the local media, Chinese companies and government agencies train journalists and even sponsor delegations of journalists to travel to China. Ghanaian journalism students are also awarded scholarships to study at various Chinese universities. While this is not any different from what Western countries do, China, unlike Western countries, aims at getting the journalists to spread Chinese propaganda rather than report critically on events.
Given that Ghanaian journalists are often poorly paid and resourced, they are susceptible to such influence and may end up doing China’s bidding. The result of China’s involvement in the Ghanaian media landscape is not only that local journalists are compelled to promote a positive image of China and its policies. Some stations and media outlets are also compelled to promote Chinese content ahead of local or Ghanaian news items, adversely affecting the general media environment in Ghana. [Source]
Dogbevi named several Ghanaian journalists who had been invited to attend Chinese training programs and shared some of their reflections on the experience. Two worked for the state-owned Ghana News Agency, which CDT has found shows clear signs of carrying unattributed content from Chinese sources. Under the website’s “News” section, at least 15 of the last 44 articles published since April appear to be Chinese propaganda or advertisements. One article praising China’s new Global Security Initiative is authored by the Chinese ambassador to Ghana, Lu Kun, and appropriately labeled in the byline (although no other countries’ ambassadors have appeared on the same platform). There are two articles promoting the business environment and tourism in Yantai, Shandong, one of which is titled “Yantai, a Fairyland in the Spring Breeze” and tells readers that Yantai “is looking forward to your arrival.” Two other articles promote Huawei phones in prose reminiscent of corporate press releases, with one titled “Why new Huawei nova 9 SE is the ideal 108MP camera phone.” None of these Huawei- or China-related articles are labeled as sponsored content, nor do they have bylines, whereas other non-China-related articles in the same publication feature local bylines.
The remaining ten of the 15 promotional or propagandistic articles are from China Matters, a media company under the Digital Media Center of China International Publishing Group (CIPG), which China Media Project calls “the central-level publisher responsible for the overseas distribution of Party and government publications as part of its overseas propaganda efforts.” China Matters produces sleek video content on Chinese culture, showing a positive, apolitical view of China to foreigners. (In two rare exceptions, its YouTube channel republished edited clips of American athletes praising China’s handling of the Beijing Winter Olympics.) One of these articles with accompanying video content on the Ghana News Agency website is titled “China Matters explores the promise of smart cities in Guiyang,” and another is titled “China Matters features the living heritage of Miao Embroidery in Guizhou.” There is striking evidence that some of these articles were not produced internally: two China Matters articles published in early April on the Ghana News Agency website listed the “contact” information of different Chinese individuals (including name, telephone number, and email address) at the bottom of the posts. This information may have been inadvertently left in the text of the articles, given that it was absent in the website’s China Matters articles from late April and May.
Another participant in Chinese media training, according to Dogbevi, worked for the popular outlet GhanaWeb. Last month, GhanaWeb published a glowing retrospective on China’s gift of 300 satellite TVs to Ghana in 2019, facilitated by Chinese company StarTimes. The article noted that the StarTimes TV packages came with 20 free channels, including CGTN, the international arm of China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
The presence of pro-China content in local online news outlets whose journalists have participated in Chinese media training programs is not limited to Ghana. During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s diplomatic tour of the Pacific Islands last week, local outlet Fiji Sun, which has sent some of its staff on Chinese training programs, carried numerous articles praising his visit, and several articles from the outlet originated from Chinese sources such as Xinhua. As China Media Project has reported, this week saw the appointment a new president for state news agency Xinhua: Fu Hua, a veteran of CCP-controlled media who some say may bring more innovative approaches to telling China’s story abroad by better concealing propaganda:
Fu has also given great priority, however, to Xi Jinping’s notion of “telling China’s story well” (讲好中国故事), and the need to find new ways for the CCP to control the heights of public opinion, not just domestically but globally, through compelling narratives. In remarks in November last year on the telling of China’s story, Fu Hua made reference to Xi Jinping’s first major speech on propaganda and ideology on August 19, 2014, months after Fu joined Beijing Daily – and to the need for propaganda officials to “be bolder in raising the banner and showing their swords” (大胆地举旗亮剑).
“This is the propaganda that can be seen,” Fu said. “But on the other hand we must do the propaganda that cannot be seen.” [Source]
China’s media elites have been busy refining their global media strategies. Speaking at the seventh China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Media Forum last week, executive secretary of the All-China Journalists Association Tian Yuhong called for Chinese and foreign media to increase cooperation and produce better digital content that would be more attractive to young consumers. Also last week was the second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) Media & Think Tank Forum, which was co-organized by China Daily and other propaganda and political groups. Tuvia Gering provided highlights of the event in his Discourse Power newsletter. The keynote speech was given by Guo Lin, director of the International Department of Guangming Daily, who described how China can utilize new media and local media to “establish our own discourse” in the face of competing narratives:
Pay close attention to how new media can be used to effectively tell the RCEP story well – The advent of the new media of the Internet age has fundamentally altered the way information is disseminated and public opinion is formed.
[…] ”When many hands gather wood, the flames rise higher” 众人拾柴火焰高, as a Chinese proverb goes. RCEP member countries’ media can work together to improve communication and cooperation on new media concepts, technologies, productions, content innovations, communication methods, and operation capabilities, as well as explore, innovate, and enrich the communication and effectiveness of new media.
“Explore how we can create our own RCEP narrative together – The world’s current public opinion landscape is in the midst of profound changes. We should let the voices of RCEP countries be heard loud and clear, create our own RCEP narratives, and establish our own discourse.