Still, China’s ultimate target audience remains the big economic powers of the world, the nations and regions that make or break decisions in multilateral forums: the US, Europe, Japan, India, and South Korea. These are also China’s geopolitical rivals, of course, and the most resistant to its influence.
So far, CCTV’s primary effort to reach those targets is through its business programs—Biz Asia and Biz Asia America, the latter presented from Washington, DC, and from the NASDAQ in New York. Both shows emphasize China’s position on key economic issues.
In addition to Biz Asia America, which is on daily, CCTV America airs two weekly programs. The Heat is a Saturday talk show on political topics in the US and Asia. On Sundays, the magazine program Americas Now takes an in-depth look at the Americas, particularly Central and South America. Produced by former 60 Minutes hand Barbara Dury, Americas Now will have contributions from CCTV’s 15 bureaus across the Americas, including Havana.
The DC bureau has journalists with solid American network experience, from NBC, CBS, CNN, and Fox. They have been joined by two Chinese correspondents from Beijing, along with their boss, Ma Jing, the director general of CCTV America. CCTV News America can be seen in the Washington, DC, area through MHz networks as well as on Comcast and Dish TV. Wider distribution is planned.
An angry dragon on a postage stamp was causing a stir while I was in Beijing. China Post had just released the stamp to commemorate the Chinese New Year, and this is the Year of the Dragon. But the fearsome creature on the stamp was accused by critics of scaring the world, and even some locals. Weibo, China’s Twitter, was full of sarcasm about the fire-breathing diplomacy. “This shocking creature on the stamp could well be the emblem of the Foreign Ministry,” read one Weibo post.
Dragons have been a symbol of Chinese imperial power for centuries, but the government actually prefers the cuddly panda bear, often using it as a diplomatic gift to other countries. After all, what’s more softly powerful than a panda?
The dragon furor provides a glimpse into China’s struggle with its image. The Chinese media effort to win global credibility is part of that struggle. Their mission is to bring what they see as China’s “true picture” to the world in a way that seems, well, credible. “We have a young team that needs some time to develop its reporting skills,” says Liu Ge, “but we have all the technology and other resources to compete with BBC or CNN. It is matter of five years; you shall see us in the top league.”
Perhaps. But a news organization looking to make a global splash needs a big story to put it on the map. Al Jazeera English was nowhere until the Arab Spring bloomed, a story on its home turf that it covered better than its more seasoned competition. CNN did the same with the first Gulf War, and became a household name across the world. The success of China’s global media effort may depend on whether its media can identify that big story when it arrives, and then let the coverage prove their journalistic mettle to the world in a way that declarations from well-meaning editors and officials never will. If CCTV can become the go-to channel for everyone in the world, even if only for a few days, it could change the game for good.
And when such a moment does arrive, journalists must be able to ask tough, relevant questions, even of the Chinese leadership. Does the leadership have the stomach for that?