China is spending more than half a million dollars on an advertising campaign to promote its state-owned broadcaster in Australia, as Beijing seeks to soften its image internationally and establish itself as an alternative to US leadership in the region.
Billboards for CGTN, the foreign language arm of CCTV, have popped up in capital cities across Australia to promote the news and current affairs channel, which airs on Foxtel and Fetch. The campaign is being run across French out-of-home advertising giant JCDecaux’s street furniture network on footpaths and bus shelters.
It is believed to have been booked by JCDecaux’s international sales division for a three-week run in major Australian cities. The advertising has specific Australian references with animals such as kangaroos and wombats with links back to China with pandas.
CGTN, known officially as China Global Television Network, was rebranded and formed in 2017 out of the country’s English-language service and has since broadened its offering into Spanish, French, Arabic and Russian.
When launching the channel, Chinese President Xi Jinping said its mission was to “tell China stories well”, suggesting the Communist Party views the Western media as biased towards the country and overly focused on negative stories.
In 2008 China’s state media said the party had committed $US6 billion to the global expansion of its media outlets, a push that has largely failed to deliver Beijing the soft-power bounce it craves, according to David Bandurski, a director of non-for-profit research firm China Media Project.
“In the past China has had limited success in building the credibility and influence of CCTV as a global brand,” he said via email.
“With CGTN we are now seeing the next phase of this push, or perhaps a redirection of the strategy.”
Mr Bandurski, who noted advertising for the network had also been seen in Berlin, said the party was seeking to position CGTN as separate to CCTV to “encourage and capitalise on the fiction that they have distance from the Chinese state”.
One tactic for giving this impression has been to hire Western news anchors.
China’s soft power push into Australia has included paying for advertising supplements in major newspapers published by Fairfax Media and funding Confucius Institutes at universities across the country.
Blocked ABC’s website
Last month, China abruptly blocked the ABC’s website and mobile apps the day after the Australian government announced new measures effectively banned Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from taking part in the building of 5G mobile networks in Australia.
Despite these efforts and expenditure China still ranks well behind the US in terms of cultural projection and information flows – a measure of the appeal of its media outlets and universities – according to the Lowy Asia Power Index.
The use of soft power is not a new concept and is a major part of most governments’ foreign policy. The Australian government is conducting its own soft power reviewwhich could see diplomats be encouraged to push back strongly against anti-Australia sentiment via social media as it battles with China for regional influence.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is conducting the review.
“Our region is changing quickly and Australia’s ability to build partnerships with other nations and people is becoming increasingly important,” the department wrote when calling for submissions.
“Rapid globalisation and technological advances are changing the way influence is exercised. Social media and digital platforms in particular have empowered individuals and non-state actors to shape outcomes on issues of importance to Australia. In this context, effective diplomacy will require us to consider new ways to engage and a more systematic and sophisticated approach to harnessing our soft power assets.”
Last week, The Australian Financial Review revealed Australian intelligence and government officials are taking the threat of foreign actors using social media to cause unrest and spread misinformation ahead of next year’s federal election seriously and are working on plans to repel attacks.
by Max Mason and Angus Grigg