Turn on a television in China and chances are it will be tuned to CCTV.
It’s hard to avoid the giant state-run network, which has 45 channels broadcasting news, sports and entertainment all across the Middle Kingdom. It’s as if ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CNN, ESPN, HBO and Showtime were all part of one network run by the federal government.
There are plenty of alternatives – China has more than 3,000 stations – but CCTV is the 800-pound gorilla. It’s the official government network, which means it has a practically unlimited budget and unparalleled access to Chinese leaders.
CCTV, whose Beijing headquarters is nicknamed “big boxer shorts’’ because of its unusual shape, has a worldwide reach. It has broadcast centers in Nairobi, Kenya, as well as Washington D.C., where it launched CCTV America in 2012. CCTV also has more than 70 international bureaus, plus stations that broadcast in English, Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic.
During a recent 30-minute news broadcast on its English-language channel, I saw reports from correspondents in Washington, Kiev, Paris, London, Nairobi, Tokyo, Moscow and Hanoi. That’s something you’ll never see on a nightly network news show in the U.S.
One thing you’ll never see on CCTV is criticism of the Chinese Communist Party or the country’s leaders. The propaganda is fairly subtle, however. The English-language newscasts actually look like carbon copies of early CNN, with dry, straightforward reports on wars, crimes, business and natural disasters.
It’s not so much what is said, but what isn’t. For instance, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s recent four-nation tour of Africa resulted in nothing but glowing reports about China’s economic support of Africa and the close relationship between Beijing and the continent.
I had to read a New York Times op-ed piece for a critical perspective. Howard W. French, author of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, wrote that some Africans are concerned that China’s growing influence may usher in a new era of colonialism.
I doubt Mr. French will be a guest on CCTV anytime soon.