China's state-run media is taking a page from Russia's playbook

China is consolidating its overseas news network, CCTV, and giving it a makeover, according to the Associated Press. The network will be called CGTN.

At the same time, Xinhua, China’s official state news network, will consolidate a bunch of outlets under a new umbrella to focus its financial reporting efforts. China Securities Journal, Shanghai Securities News, Economic Information Daily and Xinhua Publishing House will all now be housed under China Fortune Media Corporation Group.

Xinhua says this is an effort to deepen “the central authority’s reforms of the cultural system” and “increasing mainstream media’s influence in the area of financial information.”

This move shows China following the example of Russia’s state-backed international network, RT. China wants more control over its story — specifically the story of its economy — being told around the world, in similar fashion to how RT acts to spread Russia’s viewpoint across the globe.

Chinese media has always been tightly controlled by the state but under Xi Jinping that has taken on a whole new meaning. Around this last time last year Xi was visiting newsrooms ensuring that journalists and executives had sworn their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

“All news media run by the Party must work to speak for the Party’s will and its propositions and protect the Party’s authority and unity,” Xi was quoted as saying. Xi has called for this ideological uniformity when it comes to all kinds of thought from education at all levels to Chinese think tanks.

CCTV has been around since 1958 and has been available globally and available in English, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian for years, and it has a bureau in DC.

In 2011 this correspondent toured their DC facilities as part of a Columbia Journalism project researching global media networks — Iran’s Press TV, France’s France 24, Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Russia’s Russia Today (RT), and China’s CCTV. The Columbia group found CCTV’s content mostly boring but inoffensive. Think: Officials doing ribbon cutting ceremonies at new infrastructure projects and Chinese cultural content.

Of course, until 2008 RT operated in much the same way. It was meant to be a friendly introduction to Russia. After US President George Bush became vocal about his opposition to Russia’s incursion into neighbouring former Soviet state Georgia, however, things changed. RT’s directive then morphed into challenging the US as a superpower and questioning the legitimacy of its government.

In an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel in 2013, RT’s Editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said that during the Georgia conflict Western media “acted as if they were Georgia’s ministry of defence.”

A year later she referred to her what her network does as fighting in “a media war.”

With China’s focus on the financial world, it appears its aims will not be exactly like Russia’s: China could be seeking to spread its economic message, while RT tends more towards the geopolitical. The Chinese economy is under strain thanks to years of exploding debt (now approaching 280% of GDP) and currency leaving the country at an eye-popping rate ($87 billion in December). This move will shore up China’s economic messaging not just at home, but also abroad.

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