China is set to create its own version of Voice of America by merging three major state TV and radio stations as part of a propaganda push to promote its global image.
The Voice of China, coming to airwaves near you
The mega state media outlet, China Central Radio and Television, will be known internationally as Voice of China, according to an internal document.
The document was made public today after copies circulated widely on social media.
Its name is very similar to the Washington-based, federally funded Voice of America, which broadcasts radio and TV programs mostly outside the US.
The new media group will be created by merging state media outlets China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI).
It will serve to “consolidate the Communist Party’s control on key public opinions” and bolster the competitiveness of Chinese media globally to “better tell China’s stories,” the document says.
Throat and tongue of the Party
China’s media landscape has always been tightly controlled.
Although the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it is based on the premise that such freedom does not “violate laws, cause social disorder or harm the interests of the country or others.”
That effectively means all mainland Chinese media are subject to the will of the state, to various degrees. And official state media and broadcasters, in particular, have the duty of promoting propaganda.
While high-quality journalism does exist in China, state media are considered the “throat and tongue” of the Communist Party – a tool to stabilize society and strengthen its legitimacy.
“State media are the main propaganda front for the party and the government,” said President Xi Jinping when he paid a high-profile visit to three major state media in 2016. “They must bear ‘the party’ as their family name.”
Flagship propaganda machine
In the same visit, Xi also called for a “flagship propaganda” machine to make China’s voices heard globally.
In a major overhaul of government organs approved last week, China merged several departments into the State Administration of Radio and Television, partly to better coordinate overseas propaganda.
Qiao Mu, an independent observer and former instructor in Communications Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, was in charge of setting up a pilot program among five Chinese universities to cultivate media talent in English language reporting.
“The idea of Voice of China is not new,” Qiao said. “But it only became reality when President Xi Jinping consolidated all the resources with his political might.”
Qiao called it a natural product of Xi’s "fondness for all things grandiose" – such as slogans calling for the rejuvenation of China as a great nation.
Push for soft power
Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China has started to pay more attention to its image overseas.
Some of that effort is being made in the form of economic assistance, such as its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to develop infrastructure projects for countries across Asia and Europe.
In the past decade, China has also invested billions of dollars in expanding its media presence overseas.
CCTV opened offices in Washington DC and Nairobi in 2012, in a move to compete with major international broadcasters such as the BBC and CNN.
One of China’s state English language newspapers, China Daily, has been paying to be inserted into American newspapers including the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
In 2017, Hong Kong’s public broadcasting service RTHK replaced its 24-hour BBC World Service broadcast with state-run China National Radio’s Hong Kong edition. Critics say the move shows the gradual encroachment of Chinese state influence on the independently administered Hong Kong.
During the recent eye-roll scandal at the just-concluded national congress, a spotlight was cast on American Multimedia Television USA, a little-known Chinese media outlet purportedly based in the US.
It was mocked by many as “fake foreign media,” possibly backed by government funding as part of China’s push to step up its game in the international media landscape.
Now that it’s been officially approved, the soon-to-be established Voice of China will wield more power and resources than any Chinese media outlet in history.