China plans $6.6 bil media push

Report: Beijing to back state media expansion overseas

BANGKOK -- As the rest of the world's media cuts staff, China's three state-run media giants are hiring, especially if you speak English.

The aggressive expansion comes as a part of Beijing's plans to spend about $6.6 billion to improve China's image with foreign viewers, according to a Tuesday report in the South China Morning Post.

In a New Year's essay for the Communist Party's main ideological journal, "Seeking Truth," national propaganda chief Liu Yunshan wrote: "It has become an urgent strategic task for us to make our communication capability match our international status."

For all the Olympic glitz and success inside China, many world viewers still remember the Games' torch relay for the number of protests it drew over lack of basic freedoms in China.

As such, China's central government is about to float up to $2.2 billion each to Central China Television, the Xinhua News Agency and the People's Daily -- for "worthwhile projects" -- to enhance their global influence, the Post said.

The boost comes as China watchers note that a dip below 8% growth this year could result in labor unrest as as many as 15 million jobs are lost, according to UBS analyst Wang Tao.

The move by Beijing to beef up its soft power in 2009 also comes on the eve of three symbolic but important anniversaries -- the 90th anniversary of the May 4th Movement that sparked modern Chinese nationalism, the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the P.R.C. and the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the student Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.

Xinhua, without whose stories most Chinese newspapers could not fill their pages, plans to expand its overseas bureaus to 186, up from 100, giving it a presence in nearly every country in the world, the Post said.

Xinhua also may pursue the creation of a 24-hour television broadcaster, similar to what the Al-Jazeera network in Qatar has done for news from the Arab world.

"It's very likely that Xinhua news agency is going to receive a TV license later this year or at least later next year," Steven Dong, director of the Global Journalism Institute at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, told Reuters.

"Why does China want to have this competition? I think it is preparation for Xinhua, for CCTV and maybe for others to become powerful in the international arena," said Dong, who also advises the government on its public relations strategy.

CCTV will expand its bouquet of four international channels -- now broadcasting in Chinese, English, French and Spanish -- to include two new ones, in Arabic and Russian, and is expanding its team of overseas reporters and interpreters.

Since its founding in 1958, CCTV has focused on the Communist Party's view of news inside China and on middle-of-the-road entertainment. The broadcaster and Olympic host earned more than 11 billion yuan in advertising in 2007 -- before the Olympics.

The broadcaster says that its channels reach 83.8 million overseas subscribers in 137 nations, but it remains largely state-subsidized.

Meanwhile, the People's Daily-owned tabloid the Global Times will launch an English edition in May, becoming the second national English newspaper, after the China Daily. The Global Times, known for its nationalist tone, has begun recruiting English-speaking editors and journalists.

Yu Guoming, dean of the Renmin University journalism school, said the plans come due to a change in thinking at the highest levels of government after China suffered severe public relations blows during last year's torch relay.

"There is a big gap between China's image among foreign people and its idea of itself. Cliched propaganda measures are useless to narrow the gap, and bigger efforts with smarter communication skills are needed," Yu told the Post.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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