China is endeavouring to use journalists from non-English speaking countries, including to promote its policies beyond its borders in a concerted new push for influence, a report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has found. This is was in light of origin and spread of Covid-19 from China.
A survey of journalist unions across 58 countries found that through study tours, control of media infrastructure, and the provision of pro-Beijing content, China is “running an extensive and sophisticated long-term outreach campaign in a strategic, long-term effort to reshape the global news landscape with a China-friendly global narrative”.
The IFJ report, The China Story: “reshaping the world’s media” argues Beijing is also seeking to build control over messaging infrastructure – effectively the channels by which countries receive news – through foreign media acquisitions and large-scale telecommunications ventures. The report found the decade-long campaign “seems to be escalating”.
The survey, carried out in September and October 2019, asked journalism unions from 58 countries on whether they have received overtures from Beijing. This included questions about sponsored trips, content-sharing agreements, and approaches to sign bilateral agreements with Chinese bodies.
Journalists from 29 of the nations surveyed had been on trips to China, with almost two-thirds of respondents judging that China has a visible presence in their national media. One-third of the journalism unions surveyed had been approached by Chinese entities seeking joint agreements.
One example has been a recent attempt by Beijing to push back against western narratives of human rights abuses in the political indoctrination camps in the far western province of Xinjiang, where Beijing is holding up to one million members of the Uighur minority, according to United Nations estimates.
“Media control and influence has become a critical diplomatic controversy between, in particular, the US and China. This week, the US state department announced that Chinese state-run media organisations China Central Television, China News Service, the People’s Daily, and the Global Times would be designated in the US as foreign missions.”
Beijing has taken several groups of journalists from Muslim countries also to the camps to win international support for its hard-line strategy of combating what it says is religious extremism.
China is not the only country that seeks to influence foreign journalists. Many others, including the US and Israel, run government-sponsored journalistic study tours of their countries, seeking to promote their positions and global points of view.
And global arms of state-funded media organisations or national broadcasters – such as Voice of America and the BBC World Service – are seen as effective instruments of ‘soft power’ and influence. China has also been refusing to renew the visas of US journalists working in the country.