China has launched a new 24-hour television news channel in English aimed at international audiences. Critics are skeptical that Xinhua will have an impact in an already crowded news market. But analysts say many reasons exist to pay attention to China's broadcasts.
Research fellow Dean Cheng of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation in Washington says China has two simple reasons to broadcast in English. "The first is to present China's version of the world to the global audience. So you have a 24-hour news broadcast in the world's most common language, which would be English. And as a result, you have newscasters presenting in subtle or not so subtle forms on the China's views on the affairs of the day," he said.
Those views are being broadcast by CNC World, or the China Xinhua News Network Corporation. CNC World says it will present international news with a Chinese perspective and aims to offer an alternative source of information to a global audience. Cheng says the channel also has a larger goal.
"The other aspect here is the ability to as a result influence not just broad public opinion but potentially actual government decisions," he said.
Amid perceived internal censorship of China's domestic media, the global English-language Chinese broadcast aims to reach out with more of a Western style.
Zhao Xinshu, the Dean and Chair of the Hong Kong Baptist University School of Communication, says while the two appear to be broadcasting different versions of the news, China's domestic and outside programs are more alike than not. "Both are linked together, and more so now. Of course their immediate concern is their domestic audience because they feel unstable, they feel threatened. The government, the regime feels threatened. They understand they were not elected. They have to provide another source of legitimacy," he said.
Professor Zhao says legitimate information begins to filter in as the Chinese media operates more in an open market environment. "They compete with each other for the audience, for advertising revenue. And when that happens, you have a market phenomenon. That different media competes with each other. When they compete with each other, they want to please the audience. When they try to please the audience, they give them information, including information from abroad. That is one way that information gets into the so-called state-owned media," he said.
Zhao says the individual broadcasters and reporters will return to China with a different approach to news. "Many of them or most of them would come back and join the domestic competition and will become part of the evolution in the Chinese media and the political system," he said.
And he says the ultimate impact will be greater inside China compared to the rest of the world. "So they will change more than they can change the Western audience. It is not necessarily bad for the Western audience because it does not hurt to have different views, even if it is controlled heavily under the government. Overall, it would be good for everyone," he said.
China has ventured into international broadcasting before. State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) News launched a 24-hour English-language channel in 2000 that is readily available in the United States. CCTV also broadcasts abroad in Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian.
State media in China fall into two categories, neixuan or waixuan - internal and external propaganda. Chinese domestic media has often been known for limited coverage and occasional blackouts. The outside broadcasts have had more of a public relations approach.
Dean Cheng at the Heritage Foundation says that approach has included criticism of Western media. "The Chinese in describing the run-up to the most recent Gulf War, the war with Iraq, portrays CNN as an arm of the U.S. government. That is to say CNN was a key factor in influencing other government's attitudes toward the United States. This is consistent with what the Chinese term public opinion or media warfare, the idea that there is a struggle, a conflict for dominating public opinion. Not just in China, but worldwide," he said.
But he also says the Chinese government understands a changing world requires change of its own. "The Chinese are very adaptable. And the Chinese are very, very aware that simply making pronouncements from Beijing is insufficient. They understand that they are in a world that is much more complex. And that if they are going to maintain the authority of the Chinese Communist Party, they are going to have to make some adaptations. This I think is consistent with the idea of opening up the country to foreign investment and also allowing foreign visitors to be tourists across the length and breadth of the country. The issue here is what happens if this sort of opening begins to jeopardize the perceived control of the Party over the country," he said.
The Xinhua News Agency was launched in 1931 when it was known as the Red China News Agency. The agency provided official statements on news and policy inside China and set a tone for the rest of the Chinese news media.
Cheng says room now exists for greater latitude in news coverage. "So long as the Central Party organization is not criticized, there does seems to be some room in some cases for reporting. Another reason to pay attention to this particular network, is that it is an opportunity to see what it is the Chinese want to be seen and want to be heard. It is something of a two-way street - what is the official Chinese position. It is sort of like reading People's Daily. You do get a sense of what it is that Beijing authorities want to be broadcast," he said.
He says the question now becomes how far China's media will grow with this new outreach to the world. "Will the correspondents be government employees first or will they be journalists first. And one holds out the hope that perhaps that some seedlings of freedom of the press might take root," he said.
Chinese viewers will not be able to see the global broadcasts by Xinhua. The new channel likely poses little competition to international news agencies such as CNN or the BBC. And its profitability does not seem to be an immediate concern of the government in Beijing.