China plans to set up new overseas television channels and newspapers as part of a global media expansion. The aim is to boost the presence of its three main state-run media organizations China Central Television (CCTV), Xinhua News Agency and The People’s Daily newspaper overseas. Meanwhile, a group of Chinese intellectuals have publicly accused the state broadcaster CCTV of feeding its viewers government propaganda and ignoring critical views.
Central TV tower of Chinese media group CCTV in Beijing
Prime time on the evening programme of CCTV: A historical drama is being aired. It's about love, jealousy, rivalry and struggle, but above all about "rich" and "poor". The drama is set in ancient China – a society which is anything but classless, where a servant is always loyal to the government and to the army. It is a kind of brainwashing, says lawyer Teng Biao.
"Most of their stories revolve around emperors in different dynasties. An attempt to simplify history. With this kind of historical dramas, they try to fool the audiences."
Through such dramas people are trained to remain subservient to the authorities, says Teng Biao. He adds that these serials are poisoning the environment and in fact are a hindrance on the path towards freedom and democracy.
He is one of the 22 people who have signed an open letter that says: "Boycott CCTV, resist brainwashing."
The group, which also includes academics and writers, are not just opposing the historical dramas, but also the state broadcaster’s news coverage. The letter has listed six categories of, what it says,‘systematic’ bias.
It says CCTV ignores critical news, does a biased reporting, offers negative interpretation to international events and gives positive spin to domestic ones. The letter also accuses CCTV of whitewashing the recent tainted milk scandal.
"The news is often one-sided and misleading. When there are mass protests in the country, they are either not covered or are distorted,” says Teng Biao.
Calls for boycott
China’s domestic media is owned by the state and remains strictly controlled by the government. International rights groups have often accused the government of curbing press freedom in the country.
Lawyer Teng Biao calls on Chinese viewers to boycott the broadcaster's programs: “We hope that this open letter will raise awareness among people. People should reject these lies and ideological propaganda."
CCTV is by far China’s largest TV station, a network of 18 TV programs and dozens of digital subsidiaries. Observers say it is one of the main pillars of government propaganda to influence and control public opinion.
Plans for expansion
The state broadcaster has rejected these allegations. In a response sent to the Associated Press, Wang Jianhong, deputy director of the CCTV general editing department, defended the broadcaster's record. He said CCTV had always done true and timely reporting including on last year's Sichuan earthquake, the Tibetan riots and the ongoing tainted milk scandal.
Ironically, the allegations have emerged at a time when the government is planning a massive expansion of its media overseas. The CCTV, which is already broadcasting in French and in Spanish, as well as in English and in Mandarin, plans to start new channels in Russian and in Arabic.
The government reportedly aims to spend up to 45 billion yuan (5 billion Euros) on the project. It says the move will help bolster China’s image worldwide and will present its views on world affairs.