China is actively attempting to influence the global media to deter criticism and spread propaganda, according to a new report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Monday.
The report, China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order says Beijing is using a variety of strategies including ramping up international broadcasting, undertaking extensive advertising campaigns, and infiltrating foreign media outlets to spread its world view.
“You can see that what is at stake is not only the Chinese authorities trying to spread their own propaganda…what is at stake is journalism as we know it,” Cédric Alviani, East Asia Bureau Director of RSF told TIME.
According to the report, the Chinese government is investing as much as $1.3 billion annually to increase the global presence of Chinese media. With this investment, Chinese state-run television and radio shows have been able drastically expanded their international reach in recent years. China Global Television Network is televised in 140 countries and China Radio International is broadcast in 65 languages.
The government is also spending significant sums to promote Chinese views by placing paid advertorials in Western media publications. Alviani said in an era where news media is struggling with profitability, media outlets have been tempted by advertising dollars. China has paid up to $250,000 to place ads in leading international publications.
“If you’re a subscriber to big media you trust the contents they provide to you, you implicitly trust the content they provide, it’s quite dangerous,” Alviani told TIME. “In the long run they have to make a decision, do they want to keep their credibility? Or do they want to carry Chinese propaganda?”
The report says China is also attempting to control foreign media outlets by buying stakes in them. The report says that Chinese ownership often leads self-censorship, and in some cases journalists have been fired for writing about the country critically.
A columnist for South Africa’s Independent Online, of which Chinese investors held a 20% stake, had his column cancelled in Sept. 2018, hours after a column about China’s persecution of ethnic minorities was published, according to RSF.
In addition to buying stakes in media outlets, RSF says Beijing has influenced foreign media by inviting journalists, especially from developing countries, to China for training. The report mentions one example where 22 journalists from Zambia were invited to visit China for specially-designed event called the 2018 Zambia Media Think Tank Seminar.
“By inviting journalists on lavish, all-expense-paid trips to attend seminars in China, Beijing wins many of them over and secures favourable coverage,” the report says.
Lack of press freedom in China is well-documented, with the country ranking 176 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, but the report documents several cases of China is using the same tactics used to silence dissent at home to repress journalists overseas. China is “employing blackmail, intimidation and harassment on a massive scale,” says RSF.
“Chinese ambassadors extend their role outside of the regular diplomatic roles, they denigrate journalists anytime they write something that does not meet Chinese propaganda,” Alviani told TIME.
Despite China’s far-reaching influence into global media organizations, RSF hopes that journalists will work to document Chinese interference.
“It’s very likely that what we show in this report is only the tip of the iceberg. The purpose of the report is to stir interest for journalists so they’ll pay attention to the extent of Chinese influence in their regions,” Alviani said.