Xinhua: Go, tell it from Global Local Sticks TV

David Bandurski of the China Media Project in Hong Kong offers a review of Xinhua’s – i.e. the CCP’s – global information strategy. The recent “World Media Summit” in Beijing was an act of statecraft, writes Bandurski, and quotes a Chinese media scholar:

Many local television stations are willing to use news from Xinhua News Agency. Right now that means text and image. In the future it will mean video material as well, because Xinhua News Agency is a news copy provider that “can maintain its grasp politically.” “There are a lot of people at Xinhua News Agency who really understand politics, who really understand [China’s] national circumstances. When these people produce news, it will be more grounded.”

Wu Jincai (吴锦才), Xinhua‘s deputy editor-in-chief, is also extensively quoted by Bandurski: Xinhua intends to increase the proportion of local hires for its local news bureaus. Bandurski asks how much these will observe the CCP’s propaganda discipline.

The propaganda model isn’t new. The now defunct USIA (U.S. Information Agency) had a similar policy. It offered pre-produced programs to local stations around the world.

Many local stations in America and Europe are cheap. Some in Northern Germany sound more like continuous gambling agencies than like radio – they will phone you, and if you pick up the phone saying “I’m listening to [radio station’s name]”, you will instantly earn 50,000 Euros, or so the DJ says. Many radio stations (and arguably television stations, too) will gladly re-broadcast Xinhua contents without asking questions, so long as they will be for free.

Awareness of such business patterns is part of media literacy, a content which is becoming fashionable in our schools, but basically as a topic teaching students how to use a computer. That often amounts to carrying coals to Newcastle – many students are much more computer-savvy than their teachers. But the topic could become important if it broadens its scope. Listeners, watchers and readers should be able to reflect on what they hear and watch. If that’s the case, let Xinhua be Xinhua, and CCTV be CCTV.

What is something to worry about isn’t China’s rise to media superpowerdom, but the state of our own mainstream media. Cash-strapped newspapers with little staff and no investigative journalism, foreign radio stations funded by tax money, but often without a clue, but always ready to hire external expertiseRoland Berger has joined the station’s Deutsche Welle‘s newly-created advisory committee for economic matters, for example. (JR’s advice to the Voice: offer your staff an internship with the BBC, and let them work by their standards afterwards. Then you won’t need advisory committees.)

A lot is said about how useless mainstream media are – especially bloggers like to bash the media establishement. One can argue about what the structures of our future media should be. But we need more public radio and television, not less.

And an informed public will need independent newspapers as well. Media that write their own stories, that is, rather than buying them from propaganda agencies.

____________

Will CCTV and Xinhua shape China’s Global Image, February 8, 2009

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