Reuters investigation discovers Chinese "global radio web" (listeners apparently haven't)

Posted: 04 Nov 2015   Print   Send a link

Reuters, 2 Nov 2015, Koh Gui Qing, John Shiffman, Jane Wardell: “A Reuters investigation spanning four continents has identified at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI. …

“At WCRW [1190 kHz AM, Leesburg, Virginia], Beijing holds a direct financial interest in the Washington station’s broadcasts. Corporate records in the United States and China show a Beijing-based subsidiary of the Chinese state-owned radio broadcaster owns 60 percent of an American company that leases almost all of the station’s airtime. …

“In some ways, the CRI-backed radio stations fulfill a similar advocacy role to that of the U.S.-run Voice of America. But there is a fundamental difference: VOA openly publishes the fact that it receives U.S. government funding. CRI is using front companies that cloak its role. A few of the programs broadcast in the United States cite reports from CRI, but most don’t. One program, The Beijing Hour, says it is ‘brought to you by China Radio International.’ …

“Zhao [Yinong], whose [GBTimes] media company is based in Finland, spearheads an operation that broadcasts China-friendly programming in Europe on behalf of China Radio International (CRI). But CRI is more than a client of Zhao: A CRI subsidiary owns a 60 percent stake in GBTimes, according to corporate filings. Asked why China is operating abroad through private companies, Zhao said the initial reason was a lack of talent, funding and knowledge of the overseas media market. … Zhao, who spoke with Reuters in an interview last month in Beijing, said there was no difference between his operation and the U.S.-government-funded Voice of America (VOA). When a reporter said that VOA is transparent about its government links, Zhao replied: ‘We’ve never hidden ourselves. There’s nothing to hide.’ …

“The Justice Department … regulates agents of foreign governments or foreign groups engaging in political activity – defined as people or entities seeking to influence U.S. policy or public opinion. They are required to register with the department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA. These people must publicly disclose financial arrangements with foreign governments and affix warning labels to any promotional material distributed inside the United States.”

For a shorter version of this Reuters story, see Voice of America, 2 Nov 2015.

KIM:The best action here would be no action. Propaganda is perfectly capable of failing on its own.

Even by the dismal standards of the AM radio band in the United States, the CRI programming is not very compelling. Most of it is chitchat. When they do news, even a casual listener will notice that its lacks balance and is guided by Chinese policy considerations. WCRW does not show up even as a blip in any of the Washington-area ratings that I have seen.

If programming from government sponsored international broadcasters is banned, because the brokers are determined to be foreign agents, or for whatever reason, this would be a public diplomacy setback for the United States. Detractors could cite this as a loss of freedom in the USA. Washington could no longer point to the fact that Chinese, Russian, and other foreign media content can be disseminated in the United States, while content from U.S. international broadcasting is not allowed on any broadcast outlet inside China, Russia, and other countries.

How far would any enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act affect international media in the United States? Would it be the end of Al Jazeera America, France 24, or even BBC World News on U.S. cable systems? Would it eliminate the advertisements by foreign governments that have appeared for decades in major U.S. newspapers, and more recently on CNN?

The biggest problem that emerges from this Reuters exposé is that it refers to VOA’s “advocacy role,” with no mention of the news that comprises the bulk of VOA’s output. Audiences for international broadcasting do not seek propaganda or advocacy. They seek the objective, balanced news that is absent from their government-controlled domestic media. Do audiences perceive VOA the same way Reuters does?

@JamesCridland, 3 Nov 2015: “almost hysterical reporting about China Radio International”

@martyn_williams, 3 Nov 2015: “Loved the Reuters story on China radio, but no mention that G&E has TV station and CCTV leases time on US stations”

Federal Communications Commission, 2 Nov 2015: “Based on reports, the FCC will initiate an inquiry into the facts surrounding the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated.”

Radio Free Asia, 3 Nov 2015, Xin Lin: “‘The Chinese government is now expanding its repressive policies of stifling freedom of speech and expression to other countries,’ said Maya Wang, spokeswoman for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW). ‘Xinhua news agency, China Central Television (CCTV), and the People’s Daily all pay other countries to place their content in influential overseas newspapers,’ Wang said. ‘The Chinese government has had a plan for several years now to extend censored content that supports their point of view through various channels,’ she said.”