China’s Global Media Footprint – Democratic Responses to Expanding Authoritarian Influence

ABOUT THE SERIES

The Sharp Power and Democratic Resilience series aims to contextualize the nature of sharp power, inventory key authoritarian efforts and domains, and illuminate ideas for non-governmental action that are essential to strengthening democratic resilience.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Cook is research director for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House. She directs the China Media Bulletin, a monthly digest providing news and analysis on media freedom developments related to China. Cook is the author of several Asian country reports for Freedom House’s annual publications, as well as four special reports about China.

This report describes the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) sharp power efforts to shape media content around the world. It also documents how nongovernmental actors contribute to a growing accumulation of activities aimed at countering Beijing’s media influence while protecting democratic institutions.

Leveraging propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and influence over key nodes in the information flow, Beijing’s expanding efforts to shape global narratives go beyond simply “telling China’s story.” Their sharper edge undermines democratic norms, erodes national sovereignty, weakens the financial sustainability of independent media, and violates local laws. An acknowledgment and understanding of the challenges that China’s party-state and related actors pose to media freedom globally—not only by China experts, but by the full array of nongovernmental actors engaged in the media, news, and technology sectors—must be central to a comprehensive response.

It is imperative that anyone engaged in the media space—be they journalists, regulators, technology firms, press freedom groups, or even news consumers—acknowledge the influence exerted by China’s authoritarian regime on the news and information circulating in their print publications, radio broadcasts, television programs, and social media feeds.

KEY IDEAS FOR NONGOVERNMENTAL RESPONSES:

  • Investigation and research: Academic institutions, think tanks, research entities, and donors should continue existing work and ensure resources are available to monitor and expose CCP media influence activities in a credible, professional, and sustained way in the coming years.
  • Action by media outlets: Local media should improve their awareness of the potential journalistic and political pitfalls of accepting Chinese state or proxy investment, paid supplements, or coproduction deals.
  • Civil society advocacy: International and local press freedom groups should consider whether and how to incorporate a CCP media influence dimension into current or future projects, with support from donors. Such initiatives could support internal capacity building, journalism trainings and education, media literacy, policy advocacy, and information sharing and coordination.
  • Technology sector collaboration: Technology firms should seek further opportunities to work with researchers and civil society in identifying emerging threats and problematic accounts tied to the Chinese party-state. They must also ensure that independent voices, activists, and content producers who are critical of the Chinese government have a clear avenue for appeal if they encounter problems on the companies’ platforms.

The report also highlights specific actions taken by media outlets and civil society to counter the CCP’s expanding global footprint. Categorized by sector, these responses illustrate ways for media, civil society, think tanks, and the technology sector to build resilience to sharp power across the information ecosystem.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT


China’s Global Media Footprint: Democratic Responses to Expanding Authoritarian Influence [PDF]

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