Tag Archives: freedom of speech

CCTV Does Not Play Well with Others

Chinese State Television Launches on Washington, DC Cable

This October 1st, on the 62nd anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of China, China Central Television launched a new cable channel in Washington, DC metro area on MHz Networks 3. CCTV is state-run media ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.  For at least a decade CCTV has had the ambition to have its programming shown in the United States.

We asked China expert Ethan Gutmann, Adjunct Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and author of Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal about the possible ramifications of CCTV’s presence in the United States and the possible motives for the launch.

Nationalism & Propaganda

ETHAN GUTMANN:

It’s half a prestige issue and half a propaganda issue. One is to influence the Chinese American population, the Chinese Diaspora, within America. The second is to try to influence Americans so they see China as equal and non-threatening.

I’ve never been able to understand exactly why they are so obsessed with competing with America. If you go to China, people spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about how competitive China is with America—if China is weaker than America, if Americans look down on China, etc. These are huge issues in China.

It’s part of China’s nationalism. Marxism philosophy has been replaced by nationalism since the last days of Deng Xiaoping. And the strongest aspect of Chinese nationalism is to be number one. And this requires being as strong as America, if not stronger.

A way for the Chinese Regime to Boost Nationalism

The other aspect is to make inroads among Chinese Americans. The racial ties of Chinese are  emphasized in Chinese nationalism. They believe that even if somebody moves to another country, even if they have grown up not speaking Chinese—if they have Chinese blood, they are in some sense Chinese citizens and they should be loyal to the Chinese state.

“The Big Underpants” CCTV Headquarters

Threats to Freedom of Expression? How will this CCTV channel influence Chinese Americans?

I don’t find freedom of expression threatening. Let the market decide. What I’m more concerned about is that—I assume—they are part of some cable bundle. And if, let’s say, NTD Television tried to get on that same cable bundle, they would be turned down because it would be seen as a conflict with CCTV.

The big problem with the Chinese government—the Chinese Communist Party—is that they want to be in the Western system but they don’t respect it. They don’t respect the fact that we have a system of free expression. They never accept that. They are still not willing to play by those rules—at a level playing field. If they want their ideas to be out there, if they want to use soft power, then they have to play by the soft power rules, where the best and the most entertaining ideas win—very true for TV. It’s not just politics. It has to be generally entertaining.  CCTV doesn’t tend to be terribly entertaining  because it’s a propaganda station. And, in the final analysis, it’s not allowed to touch many topics, and if it does, it has to touch on them very carefully to the point where it interferes with artistic expression, or any kind of expression.

We know that within China this happens again and again.  If Disney wants to do a film and it’s about Tibet, then suddenly Disney has a big problem. And we don’t know how they are going to do in the American market.  So far the track record is very bad.

And there are going to be critical shows—shows that are critical of the Chinese state—that are going to examine [Chinese] history. There’s going to be things that they [CCTV] are not comfortable with and I suspect that they are going to start throwing their weight around. They are going to start putting pressure on these cable channels—creating a fuss. And that’s going to be a problem. That’s my guess—that it’s not going to end well.

Doesn’t it also involve the cable companies?

I don’t think the cable companies are used to this. Al Jazeera, for example, as far as I know, doesn’t insist that you can’t show pro-Israel things on the same cable bundle—because Al Jazeera may have a point of view, but it is not controlled by a government and they are not under the Communist Party. And CCTV is. I don’t think cable networks are very good about making the distinction between something which is foreign and has a different point of view, on the one hand, and something that is controlled by a single party state, on the other. They are two different things, like apples and oranges—well, more like apples and rocks. And I wonder if they are in for a surprise. The Chinese have spent so much time and effort trying to shut down NTD Television. They have a track record on this.  There is a precedent for concern.

But I strongly feel from another point of view that saying ‘CCTV has a biased point of view’—that is true, but it is not a reason to keep them off the air. We don’t feel it threatens our way of life, nor do I feel that the Chinese community is threatened by CCTV directly. But it’s the question of balance.

Let’s say NTD Television is getting very popular but can’t get on the same cable bundle.  It’s going to be very hard to prove a negative here—to prove that CCTV played the role in preventing that deal from coming through. I wonder if anybody has considered this—that CCTV is not going to sit there quietly,  comfortable with a lot of the other things that are shown on the same cable bundle.

I think they see this as a beachhead—not the conquest of the United States, but conquering a small part of the consciousness of the United States with soft power. There’s a foolish idea in the West that Marxists and the Communist Party do not understand persuasive techniques. That’s exactly what they understand. It’s not just about the gun. It’s about persuasion, and fear and mind control. These are the techniques that they use. Self-correcting mechanisms and self-censorship is a critical part of it. And part of this beachhead is based on the concept of self-censorship.

I don’t believe that it’s a travesty that CCTV will be on in America. My worry is that it will have a dampening effect on freedom of expression about China in this corner, maybe it’s a particular corner but it’s a start—that’s a legitimate fear.

The problem is that they are not looking at this in a democratic way and they don’t have experience with freedom of expression. And CCTV does not play well with others.”

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Why Are Chinese Media Allowed to Report on Food Safety Scandals?

Summary from Yahoo:

Toxic bean sprouts, filthy cooking oil, drug-tainted pork: The relentless headlines in Chinese media have churned up queasy feelings for months about the dangers lurking in the nation’s dinner bowls.

The central government has been cautiously encouraging a sudden burst in food safety muckraking. That’s in contrast to before the new food safety campaign, when local officials would delay or quash reporting on food safety or the provincial government had to give permission for coverage of food scandals…

Few think the looser controls on food reporting signal a broader reform of Chinese media, which remains strictly controlled by the ruling Communist Party. Blogging and publishing are also muzzled, and those who challenge the government risk being harassed or detained.

Chang Ping, a former columnist fired from the gutsy Southern Metropolis Weekly for his critiques, said reporters have long had a freer hand on food troubles as long as they portray them as isolated rather, than systemic problems.

How come Chinese authorities allow coverage of food safety scandals? (Emilie Mocellin/AFP/ Getty Images)

Is freedom of speech improving in China?

We spoke with Benjamin Ismaïl, Head of Asia-Pacific Desk for Reporters Without Borders. Here is what he told us over the phone:

I think that just by observation you can tell if an article in the mainstream media has been censored [or not]. If it’s not polished or if it’s not visible online, you can’t access it. So you don’t even know that this article existed in the first place.

The censorship in the mainstream media in China is not operated the same way as the censorship done on the blogs and on the Internet. The Internet is less well controlled by the government, even though the control is still very strong, compared to the control they have on their media, on their newspaper press agencies.

The censorship in the Internet is mainly executed after the articles or posts are published online. Then they are monitored by the government agencies, and when some articles are found by the government agencies they are removed—but only after they have been published.

For the [state-run] media, the articles can be reviewed before they are published. If it’s a TV program, the content of the program is criticized by the Party and by the government agencies before it is broadcasted. So the results of these censorships are less visible, because what you see and what you read is what the Chinese government lets you see and lets you read.

Why do Chinese authorities allow coverage of food safety scandals at all?

The milk scandal has made some noise, and I think the government is conscious now that it cannot annihilate completely the coverage of such scandal by the media, as it had indented to do in the past.

So the government has to let the media cover these stories. That’s the main reason they [permit] some media coverage. … But I don’t think there is necessarily more freedom or less control.

If the mainstream media do not cover some issues, then the Internet can take the relay. And then the voices and the opinions brought on the Internet might not have any contradiction, if the mainstream media are forbidden to cover the same story.

It’s acknowledging that some information cannot be completely blacked out and ignored by the whole population. It’s not possible anymore without the technology of information and communication. So, if they try to impose a complete blackout from their media, as they did in the past, then Internet will take the relay and the consequences could be aggravated.

There would be leaks [of information] anyway, and the Internet and the social networks would continue to talk about these issues…. it’s more efficient to bring the attention on these issues from the [state-run] media point of view—press media or TV.

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