Investigative Nigerian journalist Dayo Aiyetan still vividly remembers the call from an anonymous person after he pursued an investigation into the issue of illegal logging. Aiyetan had just established a leading investigative journalism center in Nigeria and revealed that Chinese businessmen are illegally logging in Nigeria.
The Guardian said Aiyetan received a very attractive offer to be a reporter at the newly opened office of CGTN. CGTN is the international branch of Central Television Station China (CCTV). Aiyetan was offered more than double his current salary. Even so, Aiyetan refused. His story is one of the typical examples of media bribery that the CCP carries out in Africa.
The traps have been set
Africa, the CCP’s first target of international media conquest, is a fairly easy market to subjugate and penetrate. In 2012, CGTN opened an office in Kenya and immediately set out to “hook” prestigious journalists like Aiyetan.
For journalists in Africa, CGTN promises good pay and an “opportunity” for them to tell stories about Africa to a global audience.
Vivien Marsh, a scholar at the UK University of Westminster, specializing in CGTN articles, is skeptical of such promises. For example, Marsh analyzed CGTN’s reports on the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Marsh found that 17% of news about the Ebola coverage mentioned China, highlighting the country’s role in supporting physicians and medical aid.
Far from “telling Africa’s story,” the purpose of CGTN is to emphasize China’s strength, generosity, and “centrality” in global affairs.
In addition to English, CGTN has Spanish, French, Arabic, and Russian channels and is expanding its reach across Africa. StarTimes is a Chinese media company with ties closely related to the CCP. It sponsors the installation of television screens for thousands of poor villages in Rwanda and Ghana.
StarTimes’ premium packages combining Chinese and African channels are the cheapest. At the same time, access to the BBC or al-Jazeera costs more and is beyond the affordability of most Africans. In this way, StarTimes has extended access to more than 10 million of its 24 million subscribers to watch copyrighted television in Africa.
In September 2018, the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association warned that if StarTimes were allowed to control the digital transmission infrastructure and Ghana’s satellite space, it would have to “transfer” its broadcast space entirely to Chinese control.
Under the shadow
In 2012, during a series of press conferences at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, CCP officials repeatedly invited a young Australian woman to ask questions. Foreign reporters covering China had never seen this reporter before. The woman attracted attention because she spoke Chinese exceptionally fluently.
According to The Guardian, the investigation shows that the young woman named Andrea Yu is working for the media company Global CAMG Media Group, based in Melbourne (Australia). The owner of this company is a Chinese-Australian businessman named Tommy Jiang. However, Global CAMG is only a “cover” to shield the company’s relationship with China. Guoguang Century Media Consultancy, based in Beijing, owns a 60% stake in CAMG.
Intriguingly, the company with this long name is owned by China Radio International (CRI). Global CAMG and Ostar—two companies owned by businessman Tommy Jiang run at least 11 radio stations in Australia. They carry CRI content, producing programs that benefit Beijing and sell to other radio stations aimed at the Chinese community in Australia.
These CRI-backed radio stations’ operations appear similar to the American-run Voice of America (VOA). But there is one fundamental difference: VOA is publicly funded by the U.S. government, while CRI uses front companies to conceal its role.
Using foreign radio stations to propagate content “approved by the CCP” is a strategy that CRI president Wang Gengnian likened to “borrowing a boat to cross the ocean.” In 2015, a Reuters investigation revealed that Global CAMG was one of three companies operating a secret media network of 33 radio stations broadcasting CRI content in 14 countries. Three years later (2018), this network has grown to 58 radio stations in 35 countries. In the U.S. alone, more than 30 stations are promoting CRI content.
These radio stations broadcast in English, Chinese or vernacular, offering a “messy” program of news, culture, and music. In particular, news reports often “praise” China’s miraculous economic development and “promote” scientific achievements such as space conquest and humanitarian programs, including rescue work for earthquake disasters outside China.
In a speech by Vice President Mike Pence in 2018, he said it is difficult to know who is listening to these radio stations and how far-reaching the content is spreading to Western audiences.
For the world news agencies, the lucrative profits that China generously spends on long-term advertising have blinded them, ready to distort the truth and “torture” anyone who harms the interests of the CCP.
The thin line between Beijing’s press, propaganda, influence, and intelligence gathering concerns the White House.
In September 2018, the United States requested Xinhua News Agency and CGTN to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The act makes it mandatory for organizations representing foreign national interests to register. In addition, foreign media outlets in the U.S. must disclose the “identity” of their owners to American readers and declare their activities and spending budgets.
In 2009, the CCP spent more than $6.6 billion on expanding state media globally. By 2017, scholar David Shambaugh estimated that China was spending as much as $10 billion annually on strengthening its soft power.
With the CCP’s policy of secrecy, we never get specific, transparent budget information about spending on propaganda activities outside of China. But the data revealed a considerable investment dedicated to increasing the reach and influence of China’s overseas representations.
According to Freedom House’s Beijing’s Global Megaphone report, Xinhua and CGTN must file annually with the U.S. government under the FARA Act. These files show that their spending in the U.S. has increased tenfold over the past decade.
Similarly, in September 2018, Australian media reported that CGTN had participated in a $500 million billboard advertising campaign featuring kangaroos and pandas to attract cable TV viewers. At the same time, a test conducted in May 2014 on the English Xinhua News Agency Twitter feed showed that only 11% of the news agency’s followers were authentic. Author Tom Grundy also suspected that Xinhua had money to gain followers and influence on Twitter. Ironically, the platform is blocked in China.