Chinese TV has taken a page from Al Jazeera’s playbook. With sparkling new offices in Washington, D.C., on New York Avenue since February 6, and a staff of 75 soon to be 100, CCTV America is making a serious and well-financed bid to be a player in the U.S. media market. CCTV America is a subsidiary of China Central TV, the Chinese state broadcaster, whose global ambitions have been making headlines. Other headlines have been grabbed by Xinhua, the Chinese news agency that created a 24/7 global English-language news channel to compete with CNN International and Fox News.
In a free and open society like theUnited States, should we worry about this promotion of the Chinese point of view?
The answer is “yes.” If we are not careful, we could wake up in the not-so-distant future and find that more people receive their international news from Russia Today, CCTV, and Al Jazeera than from American news sources. U.S. government-funded international broadcasting is shrinking, and Voice of America broadcasts to China are constantly under threat of the budget knife. Despite the existence of CNN International, foreign news is a weak point for American networks. Other western broadcasters like BBC International are also under budgetary pressures. Not so CCTV.
According to a report released last week on VOA TV, the first to be allowed in to visit the New York Ave. offices, CCTV America has hired a number of high-profile Western journalists, offering salaries as much as 20 percent higher than competitors. How much editorial freedom these journalists will have, considering China’s policy of media censorship, is indeed questionable.
In an effort to boost China’s international image, CCTV will eventually have four hours of programming per week, starting with a one-hour business program. CCTV America describes itself as a means to closely connect Asia and the U.S. In reality, it is China’s attempt to give Beijing a credible voice in the world conversation, countering the big four Western news agencies. However, as the London Daily Telegraph points out, “The question is whether you can have a credible global news channel that effectively doesn’t report onChina. 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.”
CCTV’s new offices are not the only manifestation of Chinese global ambition in Washington. To replace its old fortress-like embassy in the Kalorama neighborhood, described by The New York Times as “squat and unassuming,” China has built a giant, glistening new embassy in Washington, D.C., in an effort to “convey the sense of importance of China and China’s role in the world today.” It is the biggest embassy in D.C. and was built by imported Chinese workers at an undisclosed cost. And of course, the Beijing Olympics, the Shanghai Expo, the Chinese space program, the Confucius Institutes, and the rest of Beijing’s public diplomacy advances serve the same purpose. As a part of this relentless advance, CCTV America represents a challenge we cannot ignore.