China has launched a multi-million pound effort to improve its image around the world with the launch of a new global news TV station that it hopes will one day compete with global names such as the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.
“Do the Chinese want to be a player in game of international TV news, then ‘yes’, absolutely they do,” said Jim Laurie, who spent 22 years working for the ABC television network’s foreign news department, “The aim is to build a competitive news channel on the global stage.”
The soft-launch of the new programming began this week, with a one-hour nightly news program called ‘Biz Asia America’, anchored by Phillip Yin, formerly of Bloomberg and CNBC in Hong Kong and Singapore. A talk show and a magazine show on Latin America will debut this weekend.
With a glossy set and slick production values modeled on a US-style news channel such as CNN or Fox, the program tackled mainstream stories such as the Eurozone debt crisis, slowing manufacturing in China and the ongoing violence in Syria.
The latest attempt to establish CCTV comes after a series of failures for China in the soft-power arena, most recently with Xinhua news which launched with great fanfare in New York’s Time Square last year and then failed to produce much noteworthy content.
David Bandurski, editor of the China Media Project website at the University of Hong Kong, said the new station still faced a fundamental credibility problem because it was unable to report fully on a whole swathe of stories which involved China, at home and abroad.
“The question is whether you can have a credible global news channel that effectively doesn’t report on China. It is such a big blind spot and Beijing takes such a narrow view of soft power – as the viewpoint of the Communist Party of China – that it’s hard to see this working.”
However Mr Laurie said that Beijing was now taking a step-by-step approach to building its global brand, a process which began in 2010 when the state broadcaster English language channel ‘CCTV 9’ was rebranded as ‘CCTV English’.
That was followed last year with the opening of CCTV’s Africa Broadcast Centre in Nairobi which employs 50 people to broadcast to the continent where China is currently involved in a scramble for natural resources and new trading partners.
As for Beijing’s agenda, Mr Laurie said the CCTV America station would not follow the example of Russian TV, a Moscow-backed 24 hours news channel also based in Washington which has taken a much openly more controversialist and adversarial approach, but would take a subtler approach.
“Every channel has an agenda – you could call it the ‘Foxification’ of news which began in 1995 – that’s the reality of TV news,” he added in an interview at CCTV America’s sparkling new headquarters on Washington DC’s New York Avenue.
“Will CCTV America be successful? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but until now the Chinese haven’t produced a product that’s good enough to judge whether it can be successful. You need to reach an international standard to deliver the message effectively.”
A person with firsthand knowledge of ‘CCTV America’, which has 15 Chinese staff who relocated from Beijing, said that the international staff hired from the BBC, Bloomberg, CNN and Al Jazeera English were still waiting to see how the holding of the editorial line would work in practice.
“So far, there has been no discussion and no censorship, they didn’t take us to Beijing to brainwash us,” ” the source joked, “It feels very much the same as working for any other international media outlet. They’ve been quite careful about that, even setting up a separate company called Media Links to make staff payments.
“Basically, at a time when Western media are all cutting back, these guys are hiring. They’re not paying higher salaries than anyone else, but there are huge budgets for travel which means covering stories that others networks might not be able to afford.
“Broadly speaking it could be a good thing; teaching China how international journalists really work, and getting coverage for aspects of the Americas that other networks ignore. But what happens when there is a sensitive story on Taiwan or Venezuela, that we shall have to see.”
• On Friday, February 10, this article was amended. Contrary to our earlier story CTV did report China’s decision to veto a UN resolution on Syria.
Courtesy : Telegraph.co.uk/