Beijing plans to merge state media outlets as it tightens control

CCTV and two radio stations will become mega broadcaster Voice of China amid propaganda push at home and abroad

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 8:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 11:08pm

China is merging its state television and radio networks into one mega broadcaster in an overhaul designed to tighten the Communist Party’s grip on public opinion and burnish the country’s global image.

China Central Television (CCTV), China National Radio (CNR) and China Radio International (CRI) will be consolidated into a new broadcaster called Voice of China – a nod to federally funded Voice of America in the United States and Germany’s Deutsche Welle.

A department head at one of the affected stations confirmed the move to the South China Morning Post.

“Our senior editors are convening meetings to convey the news this afternoon,” said the source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly before the official announcement.

Another source at CCTV also confirmed the merger.

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A document introducing the changes began circulating on social media on Tuesday. It says the consolidated group will sit directly under the State Council, China’s cabinet, and will be led by the party’s Central Publicity Department.

It also outlines changes to the propaganda unit and the Central Organisation Department – two already powerful agencies that will have even more heft after the revamp.

The propaganda department will absorb the country’s top media watchdog – the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television – taking over its regulatory power on news, publications and film.

In another move, the State Civil Service Bureau will be merged into the Central Organisation Department, in a bid to strengthen the party’s oversight of all government workers.

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The changes are part of a structural reform of party and state departments designed to entrench the party’s control over all levers of government and all aspects of life.

According to the document, Voice of China’s main duties will be to “promote the party’s theories, principles and policies”, “coordinate and organise major propaganda coverage”, “strengthen the ability to shape public opinion”, “improve its global communication capabilities”, and “tell the China story well”.

The party has strengthened its control of state media in recent years, with President Xi Jinping demanding all state media outlets show “absolute loyalty” to the party during his high-profile tour of three news organisations in 2016.

Under Xi, Beijing has also grown increasingly eager to be heard in a world it sees as dominated by Western narratives that are unfair and biased against China.

But its overseas propaganda push has drawn concern and triggered a backlash in some countries, including the US and Australia.

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Xi, who has repeatedly urged state media to “tell the China story well”, has pledged to build a flagship external propaganda media system capable of wielding strong influence over international affairs.

“[If a country] falls behind, it will be beaten,” Xi told senior party cadres in 2015. “If it is poor, it will starve; if it loses its right to speak, it will be upbraided.”

CRI currently has over 100 radio channels broadcasting outside China, covering more than 50 countries. Meanwhile CGTN, the English news channel of CCTV, has surpassed venerable British public broadcaster BBC with its Facebook fan base, amassing over 58 million likes.