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Regulation, transparency and scrutiny key to countering China’s foreign media campaigns: report

Beijing Newspaper (Cliff/Flickr)
January 19, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Policymakers in democratic nations should tighten broadcasting regulations, while increasing transparency and subjecting Chinese entities to greater scrutiny to counter the negative impact of Beijing’s foreign media influence campaigns, a media watchdog said in a report Wednesday.

Since 2017, leaders from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have accelerated a decade-long expansion in the regime’s ability to shape narratives about China around the world, Washington-based Freedom House said in its report “Beijing’s Global Megaphone,” with the use of what it called “new and more brazen tactics” by Chinese diplomats, state-owned news outlets, and CCP proxies.

In a press release accompanying the report, Freedom House senior research analyst Sarah Cook said that Chinese state media content now reaches hundreds of millions of television viewers, radio listeners, and social media users abroad, “in many cases without transparency as to its origins.”

At the same time, she said, journalists, news consumers, and advertisers around the world are increasingly being subjected to intimidation or censorship of political content that the CCP does not want them to engage with.

“Beijing’s media influence not only distorts the information environment in the affected settings, it also undermines international norms and fundamental features of democratic governance, including transparency, the rule of law, and fair competition,” Cook said.

According to Freedom House, tactics employed by the CCP combine widely accepted forms of public diplomacy with covert activities that undermine democratic norms, impact national sovereignty, weaken the financial sustainability of independent media, and violate local laws.

Freedom House’s report specifically points to Beijing’s use of social media disinformation campaigns, efforts to influence mainstream media, and attempts to control countries’ information infrastructure through Chinese tech firms building and acquiring content-dissemination platforms.

Additionally, the report said, the CCP pushes politicized content favoring pro-Beijing narratives and exports its model of influence to other countries by training foreign personnel and transferring technology to foreign state-owned media outlets.

“Chinese state media, government officials, and affiliated companies are achieving increased influence over key nodes in the global information flow, exploiting the more sophisticated technological environment, and showing a readiness to meddle in the internal political debates and electoral contests of other countries,” Cook said.

While stakeholders have responded with initiatives to counter Beijing’s efforts and protect the free flow of information, “the fact remains that an economically powerful authoritarian state is rapidly expanding its influence over media production and dissemination channels around the world,” she warned.

“This has serious implications for the survival of open, democratic societies.”


Among the measures policymakers should take to counter Beijing’s foreign media influence campaigns, Freedom House recommends enforcing policies that enhance publicly available information about relevant Chinese activities in their countries, and increasing scrutiny of international censorship and surveillance by Chinese-owned companies through their content platforms, such as WeChat and TikTok.

Media regulators should revise or better enforce broadcasting rules to prevent abuses by Chinese state media, such as the airing of forced confessions by prisoners of conscience, while media development funders should include exile and diaspora Chinese-language media in projects that offer assistance opportunities, while resisting pressure from Chinese diplomats to marginalize them.

Freedom House also called on diplomats, media regulators, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to regularly discuss China’s foreign media influence tactics and best-practice responses at bilateral and multilateral meetings between democratic governments.

The report noted that undertaking its recommendations will not only address Beijing’s encroachments, but also strengthen democratic institutions and independent media against other domestic and international threats.

“Such action may require considerable political will, as certain measures designed to uphold media freedom and fair competition in the long term will be opposed by Beijing and could hinder Chinese investment in the short term,” the report said.

“But it is increasingly clear that allowing the authoritarian dimensions of CCP media influence campaigns to expand unchecked carries its own costs.”