PARIS – The China-backed new international media order poses threat to the world press freedom, a Paris-headquartered global media watchdog has warned, amid Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to France on the final stage of his Europe tour.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in its report titled “China’s Pursuit of a New World Media Order,” says that Beijing has been working to control information outside its borders for the last decade and posing “a threat to press freedom throughout the world.”
It said that China, ranked 176 out of a total 180 nations in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, has arrested dozens of journalists and bloggers for gathering or circulating information censored by the Communist Party of China.
To impose that order, China “has invested massively in developing media capable of reaching an international public” including the state-owned CGTN group and China Radio International, which offer information in multiple languages and have a staff of over 10,000 each, the nonprofit said.
As part of the game plan, Beijing has also invested in foreign news outlets and bought vast amounts of advertising in the international media.
China invites journalists from around the world, especially from Africa, on all-expense-paid trips to the country to “train their critical mind” in exchange for favorable press coverage, the report said.
Apart from controlling its own internet giants, Beijing is also exporting its censorship and surveillance tools, including the Baidu search engine and WeChat instant messaging platform, and encouraging authoritarian states to copy its repressive regulation, RSF said.
The organization adds that it explains the launch in 2009 of the World Media Summit, funded and organized by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, which is held in “countries that are authoritarian.”
The watchdog was particularly critical of Xi, who arrived in Paris on Sunday on the final leg of his European trip to promote China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which the government in Beijing aims to link 152 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
“In the course of a harsh, five-year crackdown on journalists and bloggers, he (Xi) has succeeded in imposing this totalitarian vision on his own country and is now seeking to extend it beyond China’s borders,” the RSF said.
Cedric Alviani, director of RSF’s East Asia Bureau, told EFE that there were ways to deal with the international offensive by China but they are not simple.
According to Alviani, countries must respond but authoritarian responses may not necessarily be adequate, referring to measures such as a ban on the spread of false or biased news that can be interpreted as censorship.
He recommends the withdrawal of licenses of media spreading content contrary to respect for human rights as Chinese journalists jailed in their own country have demanded.
He insisted that democracies have an interest in developing a “healthy” media environment that allows self-regulation based on journalistic criteria.
What the Beijing regime promotes, he said, is not journalism but state propaganda enveloped in arguments such as every culture has the right to its own definition of human rights.
RSF has launched two initiatives to address the problem. These include Journalism Trust Initiative, which is aimed at creating a set of standards to make it easier to distinguish outlets that respect journalistic criteria from those whose goal is spreading false information.
The second initiative is the Pledge on Information and Democracy to reinforce the key role journalism plays in democracies.