With Western media struggling against falling revenues, their international news coverage suffered serious layoffs and shrinking newsrooms with foreign bureaus closing down and a whole generation of senior journalists washed away. But when foreign players started plugging the news hole, they were sized up with a jaundiced eye with a hint of chauvinism.
It happened last year when the deep-pocketed Chinese government garnered world attention when it started strengthening its "soft power" aimed at bolstering the country's international status. China Central Television’s global push was first into English news coverage in the hope of making China's "voice" heard in the international arena. The opening of its Africa production centre in Nairobi, Kenya, was seen by many as a crucial piece in the jigsaw of CCTV's global news gathering network to enhance the competitiveness of the TV station. Another 14 news bureaus across African were announce to be up and going by the end of this year.
CCTV also officially launched its North America production center based in Washington D.C., last February. The Washington center mainly reports on breaking news in the US and produce programs tailored to local audiences, but with a global eye. Production centers in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East are scheduled to be established by the end of 2015.
The Chinese government also invested heavily in pushing other Chinese media overseas, including the launch of its 24-hour English news channel under the Xinhua News Agency called CNC World, which began broadcasting on July 1, 2010.
The same wave of mistrust greeted the purchase of Current TV, the hotly sought-after cable franchise in the US started by, among others, Al Gore, by pan-Arab news channel al-Jazeera owned by the Emir of Qatar, one of the richest of the Gulf sheikhs, paying a reported $500m. Al Jazeera, aggressively entered the English-speaking market in 2006, but from the start encountered resistance from both cable operators in the US, and American audiences. Environmental Al Gore was lambasted for selling out to a global purveyor of fossil fuel but also to an outfit often thought to be a staunchly anti-American voice.
For the cash-rich al-Jazeera, the deal could make the difference to years of efforts to penetrate the US market jumping from the current 5m households to a potential reach of almost 60m US homes. However unlimited funds cannot guarantee buying respectability. US analysts don’t seem to be particularly worried by the heavy hand of the Qatari owners in controlling contents. They reserved most of their rancor to deride the inability of old-time Western broadcasters now fronting various al-Jazeera’s programmes to dazzle US audiences by delivering a product that is less bland and more spunky than Current TV.
Chinese global effort was lambasted too, perhaps for other reasons, the biggest being suspected as the direct mouthpiece of the Chinese government. Despite a huge effort to win US audiences by hiring native English news anchors or locally-hired correspondents wherever breaking news occurs around the world, China's rising media presence as a global media institution is often demonised. In the US and other Western countries, CCTV is competing against media titans, all of which have built reputations as strong, independent news-gathering organisations.
But in continents like Africa, the picture is altogether different. Audiences are tired of the Western media's instance on portraying Africa from the prism of Western-centric worldview as a continent of disease, war and poverty and nothing else. On the other hand, China’s overseas production centers have found a way to offer audiences new angles to the same events that are also covered by CNN and BBC. This may well be the way these networks can cut across the cynicism of US audiences and capture a slice of the global market.