We appreciate Western media and products that are banned or censored in China. We are much less used, however, to the fact that the media in our homes are affected by Chinese propaganda and censorship. Yet it happens. Over the past year, Beijing’s retaliation has hit the NBA, forced to distance itself from statements by the Houston Rockets CEO in support of the Hong Kong protests and to remove some fans from American playgrounds for the same reason. Subsequently, the main international newspapers and the most widely read encyclopedic portal in the world, Wikipedia, which after being “banned”for having broken the “One China principle” now finds himself with numerous contents on the Taiwanese question modified in a pro-Chinese key , with narratives that attempt to enter fully into our newspapers and in all channels suitable to influence the public opinion, from traditional media to apps and the latest social networks.
Chinese influence on international and European media According to a 2018 study carried out by Merics in Berlin , the agreements between China Daily , the party’s English-language newspaper, and the main international and European media – such as The New York Times , The Los Angeles Times , The Washington Post , Sydney Morning , the French Le Figaro, the German Handelsblatt , the Spanish El Pais , the Belgian De Standaard and Le Soir –
they are eroding press freedom and professional ethics with “advertorial” content, or commercial or propaganda advertisements disguised as journalistic articles. To date, more than 30 international newspapers have entered into agreements with the Chinese newspaper for the circulation of the government-funded “China Watch” insert in their newspapers.
Recent reports show that since 2016, China Daily has spent about € 16.3 million to increase its influence in the US, but as early as 2009, former President Hu Jintao said he wanted to invest 5.6 billion euros to strengthen its presence. global media coverage of the country. An example is the case of the Telegraph , which in 2011 was the first European media to sign an agreement worth 800 thousand euros a year aimed at distributing China Watch monthly, only to find itself in the unfortunate situation of promoting propaganda and grotesque headlines such as “Xi praises the members of the Communist Party ”or“ Forty years of brilliant success in Tibet ”. Now the Telegraph is deleting this content, but to renounce the dealwill broadcast more Chinese government advertisements on its channels.
Not only China Daily: the Chinese international propaganda apparatus involves numerous mass media in the country. One of these is the Xinhua news agency, which in addition to forging collaborations with foreign newspapers, finances editorials and inserts within other media, as in the case of the Paralympics with the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung . Apart from agreements and sponsorships, there have also been numerous attempts by Beijing and its corporations to directly buy important American magazines such as Newsweek (2010) and Forbes (2017) . In Europe, they tried in 2009 with the English channel Propeller TV , but at the moment the biggest investment is in the acquisition ofCentral European Media Enterprises (CEME) by the Chinese energy group CEFC. CEME operates mainly in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
To date, over thirty international newspapers have entered into agreements for the circulation of the government-funded “China Watch” insert in their newspapers.
In the rest of the world the situation is not very different. In the South East Pacific, Thailand, dozens of newspapers in economic crisis are increasingly dependent on Chinese funding, and since 2019 they have joined the “ASEAN-China Year of Media Exchanges” program. However, according to the report published in 2018 by Reporter Sans Frontiers (RSF) entitled ” The Chinese search for a New World Media Order “, Africa would be the continent in which the Chinese have been most active in the last decade.
Xinhua is arguably the most influential Chinese media on the continent, especially in Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. In Kenya it publishes its contents in English on The Daily Nation , the most widely read newspaper in the country, while in radio and television it is common to run into the contents promoted by the China Media Group (CMG, state media company born on 21 March 2018 from the union of China Central Television, China National Radio, and China Radio International), in particular through the broadcaster they founded in 2012, CGTN Africa .
The Chinese influence on the Italian media A similar “geo-media” situation obviously also exposes Italy, where the agreements for the New Silk Road with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which took place on March 20, 2019 renew collaborations with Agi and Class Editori ( Milano Finanza , ItaliaOggi , Cnbc ) and establish new agreements between local media and Chinese state media . Rai, Mediaset & Class Editori have reached an agreement with the CMG, while Ansa and Il Sole 24 Ore have linked up with their Chinese counterparts, respectively with the Xinhua agency and with the China Economic Daily.
On 21 March 2019, for the first birthday of CMG and on the occasion of the visit of President Xi, Rai, Mediaset and Class Editori organized the “Chinese TV Week”, in which dozens of feature films and TV series carefully selected by the Mandarin state media , including President Xi Jinping’s Literary Quotes . A year later, as investigated by Formiche.net , during the pandemic of March 2020, the 7 RAI channels dedicated 63 segments to Chinese, Russian and American state aid. The Chinese had three times more space in the news, with 1904 seconds of visibility, against 741 Russians and 589 Americans. In the same month, CMG, also known as “The Voice of China”, distributed copies of its Cinitalia magazine free of charge to the entire Italian Parliament .
For some time, compared to other European countries, Italy has seemed more predisposed to Chinese opening.
In Italy we do not have the China Watch, but on the other hand, following the collaboration with the Economic Daily, the Sole 24 Ore has also begun to publish the “Focus China” insert in print and digital, in which a quick glance is enough to grasp the editorial line, totally aimed at promoting a positive image of China and Sino-Italian relations, with titles such as: ” The Chinese economy seeks progress in stability: a bright prospect for Italian-Chinese cooperation “. A formulation that even the most inexperienced of Sinologists would notice is literally translated from Mandarin. Unlike the Telegraph, we do not know how much the counterpart for the Confindustria newspaper is, as most of the details relating to the agreements made are classified.
The same goes for Ansa, which has agreed with Xinhua to disseminate exclusively its contents translated into Italian. As also reported by Nicola Casarini of the Institute of International Affairs , although Ansa has defined Xinhua only as “the main Chinese news agency”, the latter’s subordination to the Beijing government is well known: it represents one of the main organs of domestic and international information and propaganda.
In addition to the “advertorial” content, in the last year there has also been no shortage of fake news , such as the hoax video posted by the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Minister Hua Chunying in which it is made to believe that the Italians have sung the Chinese anthem and shouted ” Thanks China ”following the aid received by Beijing during the pandemic. For some time now, compared to other European countries, Italy has seemed more predisposed to Chinese opening. It is quite evident that, following the MoU, the perception of Italians towards the Chinese has radically changed in a few months. This can be read in the April 2020 survey carried out by SWG , in which China surpasses the United States as a “friend country” and “future ally” of the Bel Paese. It was the samerecorded among Americans, Germans and French, who have doubled their attraction for Beijing in the months of the lockdown.
The recent growth of Chinese propaganda at home and around the world China boasts the most developed censorship system in history, with over 2 million web policemen supporting the elaborate algorithms behind the Digital Great Wall. The Chinese are therefore not new to media repression, but we can say that since 2012, under the leadership of President Xi, the approach to the information system has become more authoritarian, imposing a more expansive line on the international level and, according to Freedom House , every year more restrictive towards internet users. The same is reported by RSF, for which China is in 177th position out of 180 nations in the 2019 press freedom ranking .
Under the leadership of President Xi, the approach to the information system has become more authoritarian, imposing a more expansive line on the international level.
Shortly after he ousted Wikipedia, in the spring of last year it was the turn of the Independent , then the Spiegel , the Guardian , the Washington Post , the HuffPost and many other international media . A national campaign was launched to warn of Western values in the press, in universities and schools, and it was only a matter of time before virtual censorship engineers came up with cyber attacks to influence election processes.or, more subtly, to condition Chinese-made apps and social networks to maintain control of propaganda at home and abroad.
The first government interference found on Wechat – the “Whatsapp with Chinese characteristics” – dates back to 2013, with the censorship of posts and chats containing the words “Falun Gong” (法轮功) and “Southern Weekend” (南方周末). The case of WeChat was a bit of a forerunner and a testing ground for the advent of Chinese propaganda on an international level, being the Tencent app used by more than a billion users around the world.
Today, new reports show how it is able to continuously block sensitive content in Beijing around the world, including the protests in Hong Kong or the spread of the pandemic itself, starting with the words “Li Wenliang”, the name of the doctor who was censored for raising the COVID-19 alert and died shortly after contracting the virus. During the lockdown, according to Masashi Crete-Nishihata of the University of Toronto ‘s Citizen Lab , “the extent of content censorship has gone beyond all expectations, even including general health information such as the fact that the virus is spread by human contact.” The researchers found that 132 word combinations were censored in January and 516 in February.
Recently, similar actions have also begun to take place on Zoom – with the censorship of an online meeting on the Tiananmen commemoration – and on TikTok. Various sensitive contents have disappeared here , from Hong Kong to Tibet, to criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin and hashtags in different languages related to the LGBTQ + movement.
Information is one of the three fundamental pillars designated by the president to counter Western narratives, rejuvenate the country and regain cultural hegemony.
According to academician Yan Xuetong, Xi Jinping’s strategy is based on abandoning the low profile to begin to impose the values of contemporary Chinese society on the international arena. Information is one of the three fundamental pillars designated by the president to counter the stringent Western narratives, rejuvenate the country, regain its cultural hegemony and give life to the New Chinese Dream. The birth of CMG from the merger of the three largest international Chinese broadcasters represents a fundamental step.
However, the New Silk Road is the main means by which we aspire to this goal, connecting the continents and influencing the Eurasian region like never before. The problem is that propaganda and censorship are inherent in every Chinese diplomatic agreement. For example, a fundamental requirement for dealing with the People’s Republic is to agree on the “One China principle” , recognized by over 170 out of 195 countries, for which the contractor undertakes not to recognize the independence of the island of Taiwan as if it were actually under the control of Beijing.
Taiwan, Tiananmen, Nobel Prize dissident Liu Xiaobo, Tibet, minorities, abuses in the labor and re-education camps of Xinjiang, and more generally, the whole issue of human rights, are all taboo subjects for any public reality or private company that intends to establish a profitable relationship with the Chinese government. Otherwise, retaliation can range from the termination of the contract to censorship and boycott .
The reactions of the international community and national governments In recent years, within the international community, China has become a member of the UN Human Rights Council, has rectified numerous treaties on the issue and has placed several Mandarin diplomats in prominent positions. According to the latest study
by Sophie Richardson, China Director of Human Right Watch, the People’s Republic has been trying for years and with increasing influence “to rewrite the rules and manipulate international procedures, not only to minimize controls on the Chinese government’s conduct, but to guarantee the same treatment to all other governments “. According to the researcher, initiatives such as the New Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are projects that have the clear purpose of “exploiting the openness of democratic countries to impose a new global vision and silence criticism”.
Taiwan, Tiananmen, Tibet, minorities and human rights in general, are all taboo subjects for any public or private entity that intends to establish a fruitful relationship with the Chinese government.
An accusation that finds support in the fact that – despite the obvious violations and restrictions of the freedom of thought and press of the Chinese, and despite these same values are at the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the United Nations itself – in the three-year period 2017-19 the UN General Assembly has sanctioned zero resolutions condemning the work of Beijing. Governments are therefore moving independently.
Trump’s United States is in open trade war with China, is promoting a worldwide campaign against Huawei and is now preparing to ban TikTok and Tencent products , first of all WeChat, on charges of being enslaved in Beijing, of censoring content and to influence the elections. In Europe, however, in 2018, 27 of the 28 EU ambassadors in Beijing signed a report in which they criticized and warned the Union about the initiatives of the New Silk Road. According to the report, the initiative would threaten European trade and shift the balance of power in favor of China and its state and multinational media corporations. According to the internal Beijing reports released by Reuter and the Carnegie Center, today the global anti-Chinese sentiment is at the level of the repression of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. In this regard, Great Britain has proposed the creation of the D10, a new democratic orbit composed of the G7 countries plus Australia, India and South Korea .
This does not mean that the ethical, media and IT situation is better in the West, between the digital divide, cognitive overloads due to high rates of content assimilated daily, the difficulty of modern media to react to the digital revolution, influence of Western social media on elections, or phenomena. like Cambridge Analytica. A question that exalts the dilemma of Big data, among those who ask whether our enormous amount of sensitive data should belong to private individuals or the public, and how its management should be regulated in a more ethical, democratic and transparent way. If, however, it is already essential today that the world takes action against those who alter reality by accessing sensitive data and manipulating information, it is all the more important to prevent it from even going back to when it was not necessary to manipulate data to alternate reality, because it was enough simply to strangle the voices of those who tried to spread them.