Is China weaponizing the free press?
In a rare glimpse inside the dragon nation, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) claims China has built its discourse power beyond borders and engineered a change in the global news landscape.
How? The new report “The China Story: Reshaping the World’s Media” was launched on June 25, by IFJ, a global network of affiliated journalists unions spanning the Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and the Middle East to protect media rights and promote freedom of expression worldwide.
IFJ, the world’s largest voice for journalists, does not hesitate to say Red Republic’s media-warriors is increasing its global footprint in the world’s media and its strategy showed clear signs of targeting journalists to “outsource its influence” in developing countries with ineffective or repressive governments, yet also clearly cut across both the developed and developing world.
Journalists from 58 countries were asked whether they received overtures from Beijing. There’s evidence that hundreds of senior journalists, media practitioners from both developed and developing nations, had taken part in all paid extravaganza trips to mainland China.
The research said 67% of the respondents surveyed had been approached by Chinese entities under the media outreach campaign program in almost every continent. The media outreach initiatives include journalism exchange programs, union cooperation, content sharing, training courses, and media acquisition.
The global research details how unions described a recent emphasis on organizing Chinese tours for Muslim journalists, even from non-Muslim countries, with selected some being taken to the Xinjiang province, where at least 1 million Uyghur are reported to be in political indoctrination in so-called re-education camps, in an attempt to rewrite the global narrative of the Muslims in former East Turkestan.
What they have to do in return is speak in favour of the Uyghur camps or cheer China’s coronavirus response, and write editorials and opinion columns drum-beating China’s grand infrastructure scheme, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI).
Almost half of all respondents (44%) in African countries, Latin America, and Asian countries said they have received tangible support, such as the donation of computers and recording devices for journalism unions, as well as educational aid and agreement for content sharing and a series of training programs.
On the other hand, some journalists expressed concern about the increasing role of Chinese propaganda in the media space in their respective countries.
China’s hegemony in global media footprint has won the hearts of chiefs of state media outlets, especially television, radio, official news agency, and press information department.
In a bizarre truth, the lucrative media exchange program and skill development training courses have also been offered to the press wing of prime ministers’ and presidents’ offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
IFJ has reasons to raise an alarm regarding China’s influence on the government’s media institutions. Well, the IFJ report did not indicate whether the Chinese media outreach program had a hidden agenda of espionage.
In the Philippines, journalists voiced suspicions that Beijing’s ultimate aim was to influence the Filipino government itself through close cooperation with President Duterte’s communications team.
Stating Australian media exposure with China, the report says:
“The results have, in many cases, produced stories that faithfully echo Beijing’s position on issues ranging from the South China Sea to technological developments in China.
“With increasing numbers of Chinese journalists working globally, it also provides insight and understanding of the powerful place China’s media now occupies and one that should not be underestimated.”
The report recommends that journalists’ unions can play a role in educating and preparing journalists to better educate the public on how to detect biased news.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at [email protected] Twitter @saleemsamad.