Freedom House Report Reveals Extent of Beijing’s Global Media Influence

Last week, the NGO Freedom House published a special report entitled “The Global Media Influence of Beijing 2022: Authoritarian Expansion and the Power of Democratic Resilience.” The report analyzes the growth of the CCP’s global campaign to influence foreign media and news consumers through a combination of traditional, covert, and coercive tactics. Examining the information landscapes of 30 different countriesresearchers mapped both the extent of media influence of the Chinese government and the responses of democratic societies, in order to assess the resilience of media independence in the surveyed countries. As the report shows, the CCP is heavily invested in spreading its messages to international audiences and deploying an increasing number of resources to shape its global image. Here they are some of the key findings of the Freedom House report, written by Sarah Cook, Angeli Datt, Ellie Young and BC Han:

The Chinese government has expanded its global media footprint. The intensity of Beijing’s media influence efforts was designated as High or Very High in 16 of the 30 countries examined in this study, which covers the period from January 2019 to December 2021. In 18 of the countries, the efforts of Chinese regime increased throughout the course. of these three years.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its proxies are using more sophisticated and coercive tactics to shape media narratives and suppress critical reporting. The mass distribution of Beijing-backed content through mainstream media, the harassment and intimidation of media outlets that publish news or views disfavored by the Chinese government, and the use of cyberbullying, fake social media accounts, and targeted disinformation campaigns are some of the tactics that have been used. more widely since 2019.

[…] Inadequate government responses leave countries vulnerable or exacerbate the problem. Declining press freedom and loopholes in media regulations have reduced democratic resilience and created more opportunities for the CCP’s future media influence. In 23 countries, political leaders launched attacks on national media or exploited legitimate concerns about CCP influence to impose arbitrary restrictions, target critical outlets, or fuel xenophobic sentiment.

The ability of democracies to counter the influence of the CCP media is alarmingly uneven. Only half of the countries examined in this study achieved a rating of resilient, while the remaining half were designated as vulnerable. Taiwan faced the most intense CCP influence efforts, but also got the strongest response, followed in both respects by the United States. Nigeria was considered the most vulnerable to Beijing’s media influence campaigns. [Source]

Covering the VOA report, Liam Scott described the lack of transparency and risks associated with content sharing agreements between Chinese state media and foreign media:

“Paid content is often not subject to editorial scrutiny, and falsehoods or misleading information are published by local outlets that people trust,” Freedom House said. [Angeli] That’s what he told VOA.

This proliferation of content-sharing agreements worries Idayat Hassan, the director of the pro-democracy research group at the Center for Democracy and Development in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

“Nigerians end up consuming mostly tainted information in an era of information clutter,” Hassan said, because it may be easier for Nigerian outlets to republish articles from Chinese media like Xinhua. [Source]

CDT has also documented many of the PCCs global media influence tactics described in the Freedom House report, particularly attempts to embed content from Chinese state media into media around the world. Over the past year, attributed and unattributed content from Chinese state media has appeared Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Ethiopia, South Africaand the Pacific Islands. Emeka Umejei, China-Africa media expert spoke to CDT on these forms of influence and China’s often uneven relationship with African media. In Francophone Africa and beyond, person-to-person exchanges i foreign influencers they have been vital channels through which the CCP disseminates its desired content abroad. Russian state media it has also played an important role in both hosting and providing content for Chinese state media.

External advertising remains an important mission for Chinese state media and a method for the CCP to increase its global influence. In the latest Discourse Power Newsletter, Tuvia Gering highlighted a recent article by Xinhua Editor-in-Chief Fu Hua, who stated that for both its domestic and foreign coverage, the “main political task of the Xinhua news agency is to do a good job of propagating General Secretary Xi Jinping and Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era”:

“In the face of a complex environment of international public opinion, Xinhua News Agency has taken an important first step to improve its international communication capability by strengthening its overseas social media accounts.

“We clarify and respond quickly to attacks and defamations involving our core interests; “like pearls, great and small, falling on a jade plate“Big and small pearls fall on the jade plate, we have been able to increase the “volume of China” in the field of international public opinion.

[…] “Accelerating the development of Chinese discourse and narrative systems. It creates new concepts, dimensions and expressions that merge between Chinese and foreign.

“Focus on the facts, be logical, talk about justice, and vividly declare China’s position, Chinese wisdom and Chinese solutions, in order to promote an image of China that is credible, 問い lovable and respectable. [Source]

A recurring influence tactic used by the CCP is leveraging Western social media platforms to reach a global audience. On Tuesday, Fanny Potkin, Eduardo Baptista and Tony Munroe published a Reuters investigation Chinese state media’s use of Twitter for promotional ads aimed at boosting China’s image:

A Reuters review of publicly available government tenders, budget documents and promoted tweets from 2020 to 2022 shows that local authorities and Chinese Communist Party propaganda offices for cities, provinces and even districts across the country have come to Twitter to buy ads.

The promotions, often outsourced by local governments to state media, showcased local attractions as well as cultural and economic achievements to an international audience, and were allowed under an exemption to Twitter’s ban on state media advertising.

[…] “Life is always unusually bright because we are in Wuhan,” read a promoted tweet from the @Visit_Wuhan account in July 2021, part of a government tender of 2 million yuan ($289,000). [Source]

Describing the Freedom House report, Deutsche Welle highlighted ways journalists, governments and civil society can defend themselves against Beijing’s variety of media influence tactics in democracies:

“We ask the media to break content sharing agreements, but if they have them, be very transparent,” he says. [Freedom House’s Angeli] this

“We also ask that the media be more transparent with any pressure or intimidation they receive.”

Politicians must also stop targeting their own country’s journalists for political gain.

“One thing we’re asking governments to do, which is really within their powers, is to stop domestic attacks on independent media and civil society,” says Datt. “Media and civil society form the strongest backbone of resilience to Beijing’s efforts to influence the media.” [Source]

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