Cute Pandas and Lovely Tanks – CRI and CGTN cover Russia’s War in Ukraine

CRI Russian / CGTN Russian war coverage

How is our motherland doing, comrades?
CRI Russian / CGTN Russian war coverage

I don’t speak Russian, but it seems that China Radio International’s (CRI) coverage leaves nothing to be desired when you want to be kept up to date with your country’s war in Ukraine (without too much disturbing news, I suppose). The first 25 minutes of CRI’s Russian program at 17:00 UTC on Sunday were all about Donbas, with a CGTN correspondent reporting from there.

CRI might have dispatched its own correspondents a few years ago, when the station was actually an organization in its own right, and quite a fiefdom at that. CRI’s then director, Wang Gengnian, even delivered his own annual new-year address.

Some adjustments for synergy were called for, and the central committee delivered, early in 2018, by amalgamating CRI, CPBS (domestic radio) and television into a “Central Radio and Television Network” (中央广播电视总台).   Some three years later, many CRI language broadcasts on shortwave were replaced by mere music loops or endless repetitions of always-the-same cultural programs.

Taiwan’s government appeared to have similar plans for Radio Taiwan International (RTI) – not to take them off the airwaves, but to create an tri-medial organization, integrating RTI, Taiwan’s national newsagency CNA, and public television. Instead, RTI got a new director-general, and its Spanish, French and Korean services returned to shortwave from a mere online existence.

Now, questions are occasionally asked which plan for RTI was better – the one devised in 2018 or the one actually implemented in 2019 and onward. In my view, starting an international television channel on the one hand as is done with “Taiwan+” and keeping RTI as a station focused on audiences in different languages looks like a comparatively wise choice.

For one, RTI might provide a pool of foreign-language speakers for television if need be. Also, if I go by my own fondness for radio, “Taiwan+” isn’t for me, and never will be. In fact, it’s nice to be spoken to in my first language by RTI’s German department.

But above all, developments at Radio Japan and CRI aren’t looking really promising. At Radio Japan, English is only broadcast on shortwave three times a day, and as for the news, that’s only a soundtrack from NHK’s global  English-language television channel. (You won’t even know who’s speaking at times, because obviously, you are missing out on the subtitles.) And while I don’t know what they are talking about in Russian on China’s foreign media, I seem to notice that there is a similar problem with the CGTN correspondent’s contributions that are also used by CRI, i. e. by “Central Radio and Television Network” foreign-radio channel. The correspondent, Kirill Volkov, seems to interview a number of people for his video productions, but as a listener, you can only guess who he is talking to.

It is easy to think that CRI’s German service has lost some of its (not too numerous anyway) German listeners after leaving shortwave, along with many other CRI language services. The German editorial department’s current trimedial attempts at agitating their listeners in China’s favor may be good for a laugh every now and then, but contrary to CRI’s radio productions in the past, these days’ online content is useless.

20220130_dreckskerle_20220126

“Some US politicians behave more and more like
dirty swines!” -CRI German’s
“sharp commentary” online, January 2022

In that regard, one has to wonder why RTI has recently been busy with grandstanding of this kind. Reportedly, what really happened is that the same half-hour Russian program in Russian already in existence for Europe has been rebroadcast for an additional 30-minutes time slot on another frequency.

Stunts like the above seem to suggest that RTI’s directors are worried that the government might cut RTI’s budget.

That shouldn’t happen. If Taiwan’s government wants to raise its country’s “international visibility”, it can’t do without RTI, and it can’t do without shortwave. At least, Taipei better wait how “Taiwan+” develops before making cuts to the foreign-radio budget.

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