Chinese Propaganda vs US Propaganda


China’s Xinhua News Agency started a 24-hour English-language news channel and is about to open a new office in New York City, according to the Times. The Times is once again critical of China. And they should be. China ranks 168th out of 175 countries in the 2009 Press Freedom Index, a survey compiled by Reporters Without Borders. What I don’t like about the Times article is its prejudicial sense of nationalism and simplistic view of East vs West.

The Times inflated the article by making it sound as if Xinhua Red Guards wielding hammers and sickles are about to kick down the sacred doors of Western media companies.

On Thursday, an official with Xinhua, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press, said Xinhua was planning to build a newsroom at the top of a 44-story skyscraper in Times Square, giving it an address in the same neighborhood as Reuters, Conde Nast, News Corp and The New York Times.


The agency already has more than 10,000 employees and 120 bureaus around the world, rivaling the reach, if not the quality, of Western news services like Reuters or Bloomberg.

Let’s not forget that the US currently has six broadcast operations comparable to China’s own propaganda mouthpieces: Voice of America, Radio Free Europe which targets Eastern Europe, Radio Sawa and Al Hurra which focus on the Middle East, and Radio Marti on Cuba. Many of these have been accused of dishing out propaganda rather than balanced reporting. See here, Lee Bollinger’s book Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-open page 102, and here. You’ve probably never heard of these media outlets. I hadn’t. That’s because they direct their news outwards to citizens of other countries in an effort to combat local anti-American rhetoric and try to win the native people’s hearts and minds. Taking these federally financed media operations into account with the Times article about Xinhua, things suddenly aren’t so black and white.

The Times reported that the Chinese government has spent lots of money expanding their state-controlled TV stations and newspapers:

Xinhua’s move is just one of several planned by Beijing. China Central Television, the country’s biggest state-run television broadcaster, has also been expanding overseas and offering broadcasts in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and other languages. And China has heavily financed a makeover of China Daily, its English-language daily newspaper, and introduced a new English edition of Global Times, which is controlled by People’s Daily, the leading Communist Party-run newspaper.

Astounding fact: “the various US government-sponsored international broadcast channels…collectively received $671 million in government funds in 2008″ (Uninhibited, 102).

I wonder how much China’s government has allocated to their state-sponsored broadcast channels…Perhaps the Times should’ve made a comparison not between Xinhua and privately-owned media companies but between Xinhua and US-sponsored media outlets.

I can see why the Times portrayed the story this way. I don’t know if they still have a hiring freeze, but the media industry’s financial pain is only increasing these days. They see a media company with little press freedom and sense of public accountability funded by a rising economic albeit authoritarian government setting up shop in their backyard. I’d be scared.

There’s been talk of turning media companies into non-profits. For the better half of the 20th century, corporate board rooms have sucked profit from newspapers instead of plowing them back into the business. Just another instance of short-term gain overpowering long-term prudence and stewardship. Now with newsrooms eviscerated from rounds of buyouts, some journalists and editors are thinking of alternate financial models: 501(3)c non-profits, money from foundations, tax-deductible donations, and even government funding allocated by independent bodies (like the National Institutes of Health handing out grants for biomedical research). I point you to a report called The Reconstruction of American Journalism.

The ultimate irony to the Times story is that journalism in the US could eventually be funded in such a way that the federal government plays a big role in propping them up. Some journalists balk at the idea while others are holding their noses while considering it.

On a lighter note, I point you to the 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner.

People say to me, “Mr. President. You helped revive the banking industry. You’ve saved GM and Chrysler. What about the news business?” I have to explain, “Hey. I’m just the President. I’m not a miracle worker here.”

Side note: Obama’s jokes were much better than Leno’s.