As China tries to become a bigger player on the global stage, it also feels the need for more positive coverage from media outlets in other countries. This is not easy as a totalitarian regime with strict censorship in its domain is not going to arouse too much sympathy among journalists from other nations.
Now, according to a report in an Indian news website, the Chinese government has decided to use money and perks to gain sympathetic coverage from media outlets in other parts of the world. This involves hosting journalists for specially curated programs and paying them handsome stipends. Other perks are also offered to sweeten the deal even more.
Ananth Krishnan, a former correspondent of India Today in China, has penned an article on The Print website where he provides details about how the foreign ministry of China works to gain the favour of journalists in other countries.
Foreign Ministry in Action
Chinese foreign ministry creates special divisions for scribes from different regions of the world, like Africa, South Asia or South East Asia. Then they approach these reporters with the invitation to avail of their media fellowship program. The way the journalists are shortlisted and selected is not known.
But those who are invited and accept the proposal are showered with goodies for the 10-month duration of the program. They are provided with flats in one of Beijing's most high-end residential complex - Jianguomen Diplomatic Compound. Along with this comes a monthly stipend of 5000 Yuan (US$ 714) and two all-expenses-paid visits, per month, to different parts of the country.
On top of this, they are given unrivaled access to China's ministries and its officials. Of course, there is a catch. The journalists are accredited to the press centers set up by the foreign ministry. This means they are always accompanied by an official of the government.
As a result, one can expect positive coverage of China by the beneficiaries of the largesse. The first division to host journalists in China was meant for African media outlets. The China Africa Press Center (CAPC) was established in 2016 and 28 African journalists availed of the fellowship.
Regions in Focus
Africa has been a region targeted by Beijing as an area to expand its influence. By investing heavily in many of the countries of this continent, especially through infrastructure programs, the Chinese government has tried to make them loyal allies.
However, these media fellowships have also been aimed at gaining the support of media houses in areas where China has run into difficulties, like South Asia and Southeast Asia. Press centers for these regions have also been created and journalists from nations in this region also entertained.
The allure of these fellowships is not just the junket-like experience but also unique access to a country that is devoid of independent media. Through this program, correspondents can get to know the working of the government in the Communist nation more closely. But it will be only a one-sided and carefully presented view they get.
At a time when China is facing heat on many issues ranging from its handling of Coronavirus pandemic to the activities of its navy in the South China Sea, gaining sympathetic coverage is of prime importance. This makes the reporting by those who have availed of these fellowships more critical.