SINGAPORE – China has approved the creation of one of the world’s largest propaganda machines as it looks to improve its global image, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The new broadcaster will be called “Voice of China,” the person said, mimicking the U.S. government-funded Voice of America that started up during World War II to advance American interests. It was previously reported that the new entity would be created through merging China Central Television, China Radio International and China National Radio.
The combined group was designed to strengthen the party’s ability to shape public opinion and would serve as a key vehicle for China to project its image to the world, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the changes haven’t been publicly announced.
The effort to boost China’s propaganda reach comes at a time of increased sensitivity in the West to Russian efforts to influence their political discourse with outlets such as RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today. CCTV currently has more than 70 bureaus overseas, while China Radio International broadcasts in more than 60 languages.
The change is part of President Xi Jinping’s sweeping government overhaul to give the party greater control over everything from financial services to manufacturing to entertainment. The State Council Information Office, which represents the central government, said Tuesday it didn’t have information related to the issue.
China is seeking to contain tensions arising from plans to back hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects in Xi’s signature “Belt and Road” initiative. Politicians from the U.S. to Germany to Australia have warned about China’s intentions as it bolsters its military and invests more overseas.
China has spent billions of dollars on propaganda as part of a decade-old soft power push, including building cultural centers at foreign universities. Still, the majority of people in countries like Japan, Germany and Italy view China negatively, according to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has tightened controls over freedom of expression and sought to reshape China’s state-run media organizations. “The media run by the party and the government are the propaganda fronts and must have the party as their family name,” he said while visiting state-run broadcasters in 2016.
The new broadcaster would be one of the world’s biggest. CCTV has at least 10,000 employees, while China National Radio has more than 2,100 staff members and China Radio International has another 2,000, according to official accounts.