Exclusive | Journalists with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN in US denied passes to cover Congress
- Authorities deny CGTN America’s application for renewal of credentials that give reporters access to press galleries in Senate, House of Representatives
- China Global Television Network employee says lack of credentials will ‘damage credibility’
The media has become the latest battleground in the conflict between the United States and China – after trade and technology – as journalists at the US arm of China’s state broadcaster were denied passes to cover Capitol Hill, a result of Washington’s requirement that some reporters there register as foreign agents.
The Radio and Television Correspondents Association (RTCA) denied China Global Television Network (CGTN) America’s application for renewal of the credentials that give media access to the press galleries of the Senate and the House of Representatives, said Paul Orgel, the association’s executive committee chairman. CGTN is the international division of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
“CGTN was denied for renewal of credentials based on it registering under” the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Orgel said.
“We’re taking action based on the guidelines that we have, the mission that we have, and the rules of the gallery clearly state that if you are a foreign agent, you cannot have credentials.”
FARA was passed by the US federal government in 1938 to monitor the operations of overseas lobbyists and propagandists. The Senate Rules Committee requires the RTCA to ask all press gallery applicants whether they have registered under FARA and to deny credentials to any that have.
The rejection came after CGTN America was forced to register in February as an agent of foreign influence with the US government under orders from the justice department, and against a backdrop of deepening tension between Washington and Beijing.
Concerns about the national security implications of Chinese entities operating in the US gathered momentum two years ago in the form of calls from lawmakers for greater scrutiny of Chinese investments in the country. Those calls led to a law that strengthened the vetting process over foreign acquisitions by the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
In May, the US blacklisted Huawei and more than 60 of its affiliates from buying American technology and components after concluding that the Chinese company was engaged in activities “contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests”.
While CGTN lost access to the Capitol building, Xinhua retains its Senate press gallery credentials.
Xinhua “has not filed under [FARA], so we have made our decision this year based on the registration and the declaration that these folks are making” to renew their registration, Orgel said.
The US justice department declined to comment on whether Xinhua was required to register under FARA and, if so, the time frame within which it would be expected to do so.
CGTN America did not respond to a request for comment.
One Washington-based CGTN journalist said the rejection came after the US unit applied to the RTCA in late March, when their passes were about to expire.
“In the past it was all pretty smooth, basically whoever applied was able to get [a pass]. But no one got them this year,” said the employee, who asked for anonymity because she was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue.
Journalists without congressional press credentials, however, can still cover public hearings held in the office buildings of lawmakers, such as the Rayburn House Office Building across from the Capitol building. They can also report from within the Capitol building if they are invited by lawmakers to do so.
The CGTN employee said that while the lack of credentials might not significantly affect her work, “it will damage our credibility”.
She said she was also worried that other CGTN press credentials in the US, such as those issued by the state department and the White House, would face a similar fate.
The loss of press credentials “has been long in the making … US-China relations have suffered a huge downturn, and our station has become a big target”, she said.
In its filing to the justice department in February, CGTN America denied it was engaged in any “political activities” as defined by FARA.
Despite its disagreement with the justice department’s decision, the news agency said in the filing it “has elected to file this registration statement out of an abundance of caution and in the spirit of cooperation with US authorities”.
CGTN America, which serves as the Washington bureau for CCTV and employs about 180 people, has an audience of 30 million US households. The unit is a branch of the larger CGTN – CCTV’s foreign-language network, which was relaunched in 2016 as part of Beijing’s push to expand its messaging overseas.
CCTV and Xinhua both fall under the direct supervision of the Communist Party’s central propaganda department. Chinese President Xi Jinping has tightened the party’s control on the media, saying in 2016 that state media “must embody the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority”.