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Can Chinese State TV Compete With CNN? Billions in RMB Say Yes

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Last November, Michelle
Makori, a business reporter formerly of Bloomberg News, joined a small group of
seasoned Western television journalists for a whirlwind tour of China. The
trip, arranged by China Central Television (CCTV), the world's largest
broadcaster, culminated in a visit to the network's two headquarters: on the
quiet, far west side of Beijing, a drab campus that sits in the shadow of a
giant space needle, and, in the frenzied Central Business District, the new
digs -- a twisted pretzel of steel and glass dreamed up by Rem Koolhaas's architecture
firm
, an engineering marvel that manages to look both muscular and
terribly fragile.

Makori and her soon-to-be
colleagues had come to China to learn about CCTV America from their new
employers, who had plucked them from other networks to develop another peculiar
headquarters: a roughly 100-person bureau in the center of Washington, D.C.,
producing a slick news channel aimed at delivering China-centric news to a U.S.
audience. "China has a place in the world economy, so it's only befitting that
China has a place in the global media platform," a senior CCTV executive
told them, according to Makori. "The reason you people are before us is
because we want to be recognized as a legitimate, objective journalistic
force," he continued. "The idea is for this to be not a Chinese
mouthpiece, not a Chinese propaganda tool, but a global channel produced with a
Chinese flair.'"

Nearly a year later, that vision is coming into focus, and it offers a curious
indication of China's search for soft power. Despite the promise of wider
editorial latitude, CCTV America's coverage of China is largely scrubbed of
controversy and upbeat in tone, with a heavy emphasis on business and cultural
stories in places where Beijing hopes to gain influence. Reporting on topics
sensitive to Beijing, like unrest in Tibetan regions of China or the Tiananmen
Square Massacre is off limits. Coverage of scandals involving disgraced
Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai and dissident legal
activist Chen Guangcheng -- topics that
dominated U.S. and European headlines over the summer -- were confined to
reports that echoed official government statements. (CCTV America broadcast a stern-faced anchor
in Beijing reading the statement "China has called on the United States to
apologize over the issue of a Chinese citizen entering the U.S. embassy here in
Beijing in late April," after Chen escaped to the U.S. embassy there.)

"Foreign audiences
expect to hear stories about China from Chinese media, and CCTV has nothing to
say about the two most important stories of the year?" asked Michael Anti,
a Chinese blogger and free speech advocate. "Why would an American
audience want to listen?"

Since the U.S. bureau began
broadcasting in February, CCTV's fresh cast of reporters and producers have
been struggling to answer that question. Based out of a sparkling new office in
Washington, the service comprises a block of news on CCTV News, the network's recently-revamped
24/7 English-language channel, and covers a range of U.S. and international stories
with a cast of 60 reporters, producers, and technicians who have experience at
established news organizations like CNN, CBS, and the BBC. Long news pieces,
Western accents, slick graphics, live stand-ups in foreign locales, and
prominent guests (the likes of Thomas
Friedman
and Tom
Brokaw
have appeared on a weekend evening
talk show called The Heat), emanate a
feel of credibility that has long been absent in CCTV's dull, starchy news
coverage. "They were saying 'we want you to be doing breaking news and
investigative pieces' and this was the first time a lot of the senior people in
China had heard this," Barbara Dury, a former 60 Minutes producer who now runs CCTV's Sunday newsmagazine program
Americas Now, said of initial discussions
with top CCTV officials. "And they were asking, 'how's this all going to
play out?'"

Read the rest of the story at Foreign Policy