China is waging a multi-billion dollar global campaign to influence major news outlets to shape public opinion. That’s according to a new report that lays out how American media is profiting from the effort.
The report, which lays out how USA Today, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and other outlets have been influenced, comes just weeks after Twitter and Facebook banned pro-democracy pages that were critical of Communist China.
Freedom House in its “Beijing’s Global Media Influence” report released on Sept. 8 finds that the Communist Chinese (CCP) regime and its proxies are using “more sophisticated, covert, and coercive tactics” to propagate pro-Beijing narratives, spread disinformation, and stamp out unfavorable news.
“Beijing is doubling down on its campaign to control how it is portrayed in the world and to bend foreign media to its will,” Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said in a press release.
“These efforts seek to silence criticism of the regime and convert independent media into shills for the Chinese Communist Party.”
The areas that experienced the most intense Chinese influence were: Taiwan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, with Freedom House labeling Beijing’s manipulation efforts there as “very high.”
Paying for Influence
In the United States and elsewhere, Chinese state media has paid reputable outlets to publish content portraying the regime in a positive light, the report detailed.
Online and print paid inserts from state-run media outlets China Daily or Xinhua News Agency have appeared in Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, and Foreign Policy.
According to Department of Justice filings, China Daily has paid at least $7 million to various publications to carry its inserts from January 2019 to October 2021, the report stated.
Two radio stations in Washington and the New York City area, the report stated, have also been paid to broadcast programming from Chinese state-run China Radio International.
Social Media Campaigns
The Chinese regime has also continued to leverage social media to amplify pro-CCP talking points, according to CBS News.
In the United States, the Chinese consulate in New York paid social media influencers to promote the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics and “any good things in U.S.-China relations,” according to a December federal filing.
The public relations push came amid growing international backlash ahead of the Games over Beijing’s repression in the Xinjiang region, which several governments and parliaments have labeled as genocide.
“Many such efforts were linked to the Chinese government’s push to undermine the credibility of documentation showing mass detentions and atrocities against Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang,” the report stated.
A facility believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, in Artux, north of Kashgar in China’s western Xinjiang region, on June 2, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)
Since 2019, the CCP has drastically ramped up its disinformation campaigns on social media platforms around the world, using networks of fake accounts to spread false narratives, Freedom House found.
Over the years, thousands of fake accounts have been detected on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and taken down for manipulating discussion on an array of topics involving China, according to the report. These include pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and U.S. relations with Taiwan.
The report noted that Chinese-linked disinformation networks also waded into debates on U.S. domestic issues, stoking confusion on hot-button topics including the government’s pandemic response, racial tensions, and political divisions during the 2020 presidential election.
The regime’s attempts to influence media channels in democratic countries have come under rising scrutiny.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the CCP’s efforts to quash press freedoms in mainland China, while simultaneously exploiting free media in other nations to spread pro-Beijing messaging.
“We have a total imbalance, because these leaders in Beijing are using the free and open media that we ensure and are protected in democratic systems to spread propaganda, to spread misinformation,” Blinken said.
“Ultimately, that’s an unsustainable proposition.”