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Protesters hold placards with messages that read “reject red media” and “safeguard the nation’s democracy” during a rally against pro-China media in front of the Presidential Office building in Taipei on June 23, 2019. Photo credit: Hsu Tsunhsu/ AFP via Getty Images

China’s Aggressive Push to Influence Media Threatens Democracy

Freedom House recently released a report titled ‘Beijing’s Global Media Influence 2022’ in which it examined Beijing’s Global Media Influence and the Power of Democratic Resilience in 30 countries over a period of three years from January 2019 to December 2021. The Chinese government, as per the report, increased its global media footprint and the intensity of its efforts in 18 of the 30 countries. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using a two-pronged strategy to influence the media and disseminate content to create a positive image of China while blocking those that are detrimental to its image. Towards this end, The CCP, as per the report, has employed sophisticated and coercive tactics such as mass distribution of Beijing-backed content via mainstream media, harassment and intimidation of media outlets that published news or opinions considered as unfavorable to China, and extensive use of cyberbullying, fake social media accounts, and targeted disinformation campaigns. 

According to the report, 50% of the countries surveyed achieved the rating of resilient while the other half were deemed vulnerable. Taiwan faced the most intense CCP influence efforts followed by the United States, but both also pushed back the hardest. Nigeria was found to be most vulnerable to the CCP media influence campaign.

The report notes the role of independent media, civil society organizations, and local laws in mitigating the impact of Beijing’s media influence. It states, “journalists, scholars, and civil society groups in all 30 countries responded to influence campaigns in ways that increased transparency, ensured diverse coverage, and enhanced local expertise on China. Laws governing freedom of information or media ownership, which are present in many democracies, helped to ensure transparency and insulate media ecosystems from CCP influence.”

Despite the CCP’s concerted effort to influence media beyond its border, human rights violations in Tibet, East Turkistan and Southern Mongolia, repression of pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and suppression of initial outbreak of Covid-19 has led to global condemnation of its action and global public opinion on China has become less favorable.  

“The vast amount of resources the CCP and the Chinese government deploys in buying influence, whitewashing its image and disseminating disinformation speaks to the inherent insecurities and paranoia of the Chinese leadership and we should expect the CCP to further intensify such efforts,” said Kelsang D. Aukatsang, President of the Asia Freedom Institute.  

The report noted the continued need to make coordinated efforts by all the stakeholders to counter the CCP’s growing media influence.

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