Chinese state media roping in English-speaking influencers in UK to tell positive stories about China

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the country has to project a "lovable" image of itself to the world.

Kayla Wong | June 17, 2021, 05:07 PM

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CGTN, the English-language arm of China's state broadcaster CCTV, has launched a campaign to enlist English-speaking presenters and influencers in the UK to share stories that paint China in a good light.

Telling stories that "eliminate" bias against China

The campaign, called "The Media Challengers", offered a chance for shortlisted participants to win up to US$10,000 (S$13,363) and to work at CGTN as a "storyteller" that tells stories which "move the world".

It cited examples that range from "African Savannah to the ancient Silk Road" as stories that these "media challengers" would be covering should they be enlisted.

A video promoting the campaign, which was launched on Apr. 8 and ended on June 10, featured six students at the University of Leeds, who appeared to be mostly international students.

To encourage more applicants to take part in the campaign, CGTN released a video submitted by a 24-year-old Chinese student, Zhuang Shangzi, or Crystal, who is currently studying at the University of Manchester.

Citing British expatriates Lee and Oli Barrett, who posts videos on YouTube, Zhuang said she is a "huge fan" of these vloggers as they tell stories that "show a side of China that people don't really see, and help eliminate the bias Western media has towards China".

"If you think about China, you probably don't think about the rich natural resources, you probably don't think [that] China has 5,000 years [of] rich history, you probably don't know that Chinese people actually pay great attention to climate change and environmental issues," she said.

"I'm not only passionate about being a reporter, but I also want to promote the real China to the world through travel."

China funding influencers from the West to tell lovely stories on China

Lee and Oli Barrett often post videos that defend the Chinese Communist Party's policies, pointing out that the West has a strong "anti-China" bias and claiming that they are "desperate to destabilise Xinjiang".

A report by British national newspaper The Times claimed that the Barretts, who have more than 275,000 subscribers, are funded by the Chinese government to produce content that speak well of the Communist Party.

Citing an analysis by the computational propaganda project at the University of Oxford, the report said their videos have been tweeted by Chinese officials, including the Minister of the Chinese Embassy in the UK, Ma Hui.

Hannah Bailey, an expert on Chinese-funded digital disinformation at the Oxford Internet Institute, told The Times that the Chinese government has been employing the "strategy of using Westerners to project a positive image" of the Party for "quite some time".

She said "China is continuously aware of its need to maintain legitimacy among its domestic population", adding that part of this "legitimacy" comes from its "perception among international audiences".

"In other words, if domestic audiences believe that the rest of the world admires China, this instils confidence by domestic audiences in Chinese Communist Party rule," she said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told senior Party leaders that the country has to revamp its communication style and project a "lovable" image of itself.

CGTN's broadcasting license in the UK was revoked in February after British media regulator Ofcom claimed the media outlet was editorially controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

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Top image via CGTN