Beijing used foreign media to improve its image following the criticism over the reports of Covid-19 mismanagement. It could be done effectively since China has invested substantial amount in media outlets worldwide and even started some of its own, which let it swing the narrative in its favour. However, back at home, situation is exact the opposite. The Beijing government has blocked private investment in media, pushing several non-partisan, liberal news organisations go out of service. This may mean the state media continues to flourish while the harbingers of free speech are stifled. The recent changes made to the country’s media regulations have shown financial news website Caixin a door and other such liberal outlets such as South China Morning Post (SCMP) are going to be affected too. The attempts to tighten noose on the free and liberal media has led to the criticism of the Xi Jinping government.
China’s National Development and Reform Council has released a document called “Market Access Negative List 2021”, which sought a ban on the funding from private players for news gathering, broadcasting and distribution, including on social media. The legislation also bars media houses from reproducing content published by foreign news outlets. Now, China has published a list of 1,358 media houses, social media accounts and government agencies. Internet news providers cannot publish other than what produced by these approved outlets. All this means news outlets that are critical of the Beijing government, likes of Caixin, will struggle to get advertisements and funding and thus to remain in business.
The recent government decisions are intended to shape the minds of Chinese people especially the youth, said critics. A retired lecturer at Shanxi University named Lau said “The government is making sure that it controls its message, it won’t hand over the pen to anyone else. It wants a dominating voice to rule over everything.” This is in contradiction with the China’s constitution that offers its citizens freedom of speech and press. Despite having 989 million internet users in the country, China was ranked the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for seven years in a row.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), nonprofit that promotes press freedom, has urged China to withdraw its new legislation and allow news outlets to operate freely. Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator said the ban “threatens to deliver a death blow to China’s already extremely hobbled independent news industry.” China has already banned major global media houses and social media platform such as Google, Twitter, Facebook. Even the Chinese local companies too are subjected to serious scrutiny from the government. “The regime in China has worked to close off the last remaining avenues for accessing uncensored information by increasing pressure on private technology companies to police the content on their platforms more assiduously,” said research organisation Freedom House in its 2019 report.
The Beijing government, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and even their proxies, have invested in news media all over the world. They are not just used to influence content but manipulate narratives to counter any information that is against Chinese interest. “Wherever the readers are, wherever the viewers are, that is where propaganda reports must extend their tentacles,” Jinping told state media in 2016.
China has made the best use of its influence over the media across the world to polish its image during the Covid-19 pandemic. “More than half of all countries said that coverage of China in their national media was more positive since the start of the pandemic. The percentage of nations reporting China to have a visible presence in their media ecosystems was up from 64 percent to 76 percent in a year,” reads a report by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). IFJ’s deputy general secretary Jeremy Dear said China put in lot more effort and resources to shape the media narrative, which saw intervention from ambassadors and diplomats as well as lucrative offers of free content and advertisment.
In poor countries like Kenya in Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, the subscription of Chinese channels has been kept cheaper than that of the ohher international channels like BBC. Morevoer, pro Chinese elements were founf influencing media content in countries like Australia and Taiwan. While beijing has been trying to propagate its objectives and interest through intervention in global media, it has made attempts to limit foreign media inside China.