Asia Policy Expert Elizabeth Economy '84 Evaluates Growing Presence of Chinese Media in U.S.

BBC News: Chinese Media Push into U.S.

China is aggressively trying to stake out a place in America's highly competitive media landscape in an effort to get the country presented in a more positive light. Through state-owned television, newspapers, magazines and online sites, China is trying to reach millions of Americans with its own brand of news.

One of the more visible signs of the growing Chinese media presence in the U.S. can be found right in the heart of New York, where Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, has paid for a huge electronic billboard to display its logo from one of the tallest buildings in Times Square. Down below, on the streets, most New Yorkers have no clue what the billboard represents, but Elizabeth Economy ['84], director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, detects a growing trend.

"I think there's been an explosion in the role that Chinese media have tried to play over the past two to three years. I think they're really making a play to get the Chinese voice into the American media mainstream," she says.

Journalism or propaganda?

Nowadays, Americans can find copies of China Daily appearing as advertising supplements within established papers like the New York Times and Washington Post. There is a strengthened Chinese news presence online - and this year, China launched a cable network for Americans called CCTV America.

"The Chinese government for many, many years has felt as though the narrative on China has been dominated by a Western perspective," Ms. Economy says. "And the Chinese believe the time is now for China to get its own voice out there and tell its own story." ...

Low Impact

There have been strides forward in the way China packages and presents its news. But despite CCTV casting itself as a slick, Western-style TV news operation, and efforts to make China Daily competitive with U.S. papers, many Americans still harbour suspicions of bias when it comes to the Chinese media. That is partly why China's U.S.-targeted news services have not yet been able to attract a significant audience.

"I don't think that they're going to win over any hearts and minds unless and until they begin to adopt a format that is more akin to what Americans have grown up with, which really is a challenging and investigative form of journalism," Ms Economy says. "That is what attracts people."

Many analysts share the view that Chinese media outlets trying to reach American audiences would not gain respect, or commercial viability until they have editorial autonomy - and that would require a loosening of control by Chinese officialdom - which is not likely...

Three years ago, the Chinese government reportedly committed $6bn (£3.87bn) to an international media push aimed at getting the country presented in more favourable terms. So far, the experience, in America at least, suggests it is a strategy that has not yet been able to make much of an impact.

Elizabeth Economy '84 graduated with an honors major in political science and minors in history and Russian. She earned her AM from Stanford University and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and has taught at John Hopkins University and the University of Washington.