Archive for February 8th, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Will CCTV and Xinhua shape China’s Global Image?

BBC’s correspondent in China, James Reynolds, refers to CCTV’s planned Russian and Arabic language channels and to similar plans by Xinhua News Agency. And he asks if the efforts of China’s official media efforts have won any of his blog’s readers over so far.

Some of the commenters instantly criticised his post and in turn pointed out where they see the BBC as just another (Western) propaganda tool. They are critical of the BBC in a way CCTV and China Radio International would probably appreciate – but I don’t think that their defense mode in Beijing’s favor was created by CCTV – maybe unless they are mainland Chinese and grew up with CCP-controlled media.

A former White House task force media expert, David Chambers, was enthusiastic about the BBC’s Arabic TV channel launched last year. You can’t blame the BBC for his enthusiasm. But in the 1990s, the BBC chose the Orbit Communications Corporation as a partner for its first try to reach a large Arab television audience. If Wikipedia has it right, Orbit Communications was owned by a certain Prince Khaled, a cousin of King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. Again, to the defense of the BBC, it should be said that the BBC angered the House of Saud sufficiently to make the partnership explode – many of the staff switched to Al Jazeera television. A partnership with an oligarchy in power in a certain place doesn’t look clever. As long as it works, I’d constantly suspect as a viewer or listener that there is no real editorial independence. When it doesn’t work, they go off the air anyway. Maybe going it alone as the BBC does now is a smarter choice.

You can be pretty sure that BBC Arabic TV will be listened to. They may also be trusted more than local media, just as I’d still guess the BBC’s Mandarin service is more trusted – by those in China who listen to it – than China’s local stations. But when the BBC chose to launch their Arabic television service, they also decided to close ten other language radio services to balance their budget. Such choices reflect political priorities, don’t they?

The bottomline is that no non-commercial media service is here simply for the sake of making their audience more informed. Still, there are some among them which I think are doing a good job, and others which don’t. I’m listening to the BBC World Service more often than to any other station from home (Germany) or abroad.

Journalists who know their trade and work professionally will win me over. Stuff like the “VoA Editorials” puts me off. And the VoA is still subtle in its approach, compared to China Radio International or Xinhua. Even government-funded journalism might work with integrity.

But is that the rule?

When the Reagan administration upgraded the Voice of America in terms of staff and broadcasting sites during the 1980s (and introduced those “Editorials, reflecting the views of the United States government”), Carl Rowan, who had been head of the USIA earlier, warned that radio broadcasts couldn’t make up for wrong political decisions. (The picture wouldn’t be complete without saying that Rowan was critical of the Reagan administration’s policies anyway.)

But it should be food for thought that the BBC’s Arabic television followed British troops into the Arab world.

%d bloggers like this: