Beijing in 45b yuan global media drive

State giants to lead image campaign

The central government is preparing to spend 45 billion yuan (HK$51 billion) on the overseas expansion of its main media organisations in an aggressive global drive to improve the country's image internationally.

The three state media giants - Central China Television, Xinhua News Agency and the People's Daily - could each get up to 15 billion yuan if they came up with 'worthwhile projects' to enhance their global influence, a well-positioned source said. Even the smaller operator China News Service could get 2 billion yuan.

The Ministry of Finance had set aside a total of 45 billion yuan for the ambitious plan, the source said.

Management at CCTV, Xinhua and the People's Daily have been busy meeting consultants, inviting experts to brainstorming sessions and drafting proposals.

'Xinhua has a plan to expand its overseas bureaus from about 100 to 186,' the source said, suggesting it would have bases in virtually every country in the world.

Another media source said Xinhua planned to create an Asia-based 24-hour television station to broadcast global news to an international audience.

'I was invited twice for brainstorming meetings on the establishment of such a television station, which would not just broadcast news on China, but on everywhere in the world,' a different source said.

The media sources said Xinhua was ambitious about building an 'influential and reliable' station like the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network.

'With Al-Jazeera as the model, the station would enjoy greater freedom of speech from the central authorities than Phoenix TV on political and current events,' one source said.

Meanwhile, the Global Times, a daily tabloid owned by the People's Daily and known for its nationalistic tone, has decided to launch an English edition in May, becoming the second national English newspaper, after China Daily. The paper has begun recruiting English-speaking editors and journalists.

CCTV has announced plans to launch Arabic and Russian channels this year, aggressively expanding its team of overseas reporters and recruiting foreign-language professionals.

CCTV already has four international channels - which broadcast in Chinese, English, French and Spanish. The content is mainly about China and CCTV says its channels reach 83.8 million overseas subscribers in 137 nations.

In 2007, CCTV earned more than 11 billion yuan in advertising revenue, one-quarter of the total television revenue on the mainland that year.

The expansion plans are in sharp contrast to the payroll cuts experienced in the western media in recent years and particularly since the financial crisis hit. US-based media giants such as Viacom, NBC Universal, AP, CNN and The New York Times, have all announced staff cuts.

The expansion plans also come as many Chinese propaganda officials have used various occasions to stress the need to improve international efforts to 'better convey a good image of China to the world'.

Renmin University journalism school dean Yu Guoming said the plans were due to ideological shifts by some senior state officials prompted by the protests and conflicts encountered during last year's Olympic torch relay.

'The embarrassing image revealed in western media made Chinese officials realise that while China's economy has a great presence in the global economy, China's voice and cultural influence have not achieved a decent position,' Professor Yu said.

'There is a big gap between China's image among foreign people and its idea of itself. Cliched propaganda measures are useless to narrow the gap, and bigger efforts with smarter communication skills are needed.'