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JAMCO Online International Symposium

17th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 29, 2008

Trans-border TV Broadcastings of Non-English-speaking Countries

Discussant 1: The Current State of CCTV Channel 9 and Its Issues

Kiyoshi Takai
Professor, Graduate School of International Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

As reported by Cao Ri, China Central Television (CCTV), China’s international broadcast in the English language, has achieved dramatic advancement during the past 20 years. Within the framework of terrestrial-wave general TV programming in China, it began as a 25-minute news program in English aired once a day and grew into something with one channel exclusively for English-language programming, aired 24 hours a day. In addition, its broadcasts are being transmitted worldwide through satellite transmission. According to Cao Ri’s report, its programs are being view by roughly 25 million people through its six satellite stations. When the current state of CCTV 9 operation was spotlighted in NHK’s “The World Moves with Information Communication,” a special feature aired in March 2007 to commemorate Broadcasting Day, it was reported that the broadcast is being viewed by 50 million households in 46 countries around the world. Whether which figure is accurate is not the issue here. In fact, simultaneous and recorded broadcasts are viewable today on the Internet, and viewing of the broadcasting station’s programs is possible around the world and relies exclusively on the discretion of each individual viewer.

CCTV Development Is Not Market-Economy Oriented

There are many factors that can be identified as contributors to this growth. The major factor underlying it is the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. Particularly with the introduction of market economy principles in the 1990s and later, advertising demand rose rapidly alongside rapid economic growth, and CCTV in itself underwent unprecedented business growth. Advertising sales for the entire Chinese TV industry had been 560 million yuan in 1990 but rose steadily to 1.444 billion yuan in 1997 and 3.553 billion yuan in 2005. Advertising sales earnings for CCTV itself had been 1.04 billion yuan in 2005, accounting for nearly a third of total earnings for the entire Chinese TV industry. Of the over 300 TV stations in China, CCTV is an overwhelmingly dominant presence. Founded on this management basis, it has been able to expand into broadcast on 17 channels in analog TV broadcasting alone, ranging from its main channel to those specialized in areas such as economics, sports, music and education, as well as broadcast in foreign languages including English, French and Spanish.

The second factor is China’s TV policy. Television stations in China are basically state-operated, with strict restrictions imposed on capital investment by the private sector and foreign investors. Presently, there is no television broadcasting operation comparable to CCTV on the national level, with other TV stations serving only their respective local areas. In view of these circumstances, it is clear that CCTV’s business foundation was built on growth of the market economy and that its growth was not due to survival in a competitive market environment.

In recent years, China’s television industry is undergoing intense competition, and programs are being produced with a strong awareness of viewer ratings. With the huge success of “Ch?oji n?sh?ng (Super Girl),” a viewer-participation show business audition program broadcast by Hunan Satellite TV, other local TV stations are following suit with similar programs. This has increased the advertising unit price for TV programs, possibly posing a threat to CCTV. However, the so-called “cardboard paper meat buns” scandal stemming from a TV program produced by Beijing TV, prompted by international uproar over the safety of products and foods from China, has led to the issue of a normalization policy by TV industry administrators. At this point, restrictions were imposed on the “Super Girl” program for allegedly being “vulgar.” This campaign was led by CCTV insiders. It is believed that CCTV had embarked on regulating the “Super Girl” phenomenon, which had led to proliferation across the country and greater revitalization of local TV stations, in order to curb the threat over its dominance. The veracity of the allegation aside, it can be said that television administration policy of the Chinese government had built to CCTV as it is today.

It is no exaggeration to say that CCTV management and broadcasting policies are one and the same as that of the Chinese government, as a result of its development based on these two factors. Channel 9 is a typical example. Essentially, it is a channel with very low market appeal and cannot expect to have significant advertising sales earnings. It can be said that it is being managed as an “advertising medium,” with mechanisms identical to that employed in media policy of the planned economy days. In other words, Channel 9 is being deployed as the Chinese government’s international broadcast medium for external publicity.

Limited Broadcast Area

According to the NHK special feature mentioned earlier, Channel 9 has set up overseas relay stations but for viewing only in the small island nations of the South Pacific and African nations. There are a number of reasons for this. Mass media in these areas remained underdeveloped, and broadcasting facilities, equipment and content are far from adequate. Furthermore, these nations have been the target for China in winning supporters in its conflict with Taiwan over which nation is the legitimate Chinese representative in the United Nations.

For this reason, Chinese aid to construct satellite broadcast reception antenna in such nations for relay of Channel 9 broadcast is aimed not only to assist these developing countries but at the same time to win their understanding and support of the People’s Republic of China. In the NHK program, the citizens of the Republic of Vanuatu were interviewed on their opinions on Channel 9 in their homes. According to the interviews, Channel 9 broadcast is a refreshing change, since there had been only government-produced programming available only for hours per day in this island nation. It was praised that the people “won’t know what is going on around the world, if it weren’t for Channel 9.” Furthermore, some said that they “did not know that China was such a democratic country.” It appears that its function as an external publicity medium is being fulfilled satisfactorily. For developing countries that lag behind in information technology, China’s aims in external publicity have been achieved successfully.

In line with this study, let us look briefly into the content of the NHK special The program focused on the leading Channel 9 interview program titled “Dialogue.” In the program, political and cultural figures are invited to the studio for interview with a popular news reporter. Former President Bill Clinton of the United States had appeared in the program in the past. However, what were introduced as installments aired in November 2006 were interviews with politicians of African nations, such as Ghana, Rwanda, Liberia and Uganda, linking them with the February 2007 tour of Africa by President Hu Jintao. In other words, Channel 9 served as the medium for paving the way to promote China’s Africa diplomacy. News anchor Yang Rui spoke in the program that “it is natural to communicate the arguments and policies of the nation to the world” and made no effort to cover the TV station’s role as the government’s external publicity medium.

However, the results are probably far from adequate. Assessment in the Cao Ri report appeared to suggest that NHK was envious of Channel 9’s growth. Certainly, it surpasses NHK’s international broadcasts in terms of backup it happens, such as 24-hour dedicated channels. However, there are doubts on whether its potential has been mobilized adequately in view of the limitations of its impact and viewable areas vis-a-vis the well-developed broadcast environment NHK enjoys. If those at Channel 9 are satisfied with their current performance level, it must be admitted that they are not able to meet sufficiently the highest-level requirements of its government.

Passive Stance toward Globalization in the 1990s

Underlying the growth of Channel 9 in the area of international broadcasting is China’s need to expand overseas in the economic sector (commonly described as “stepping forward” within China), including trade and investment, following its membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Not only that, the country has emerged as an important power in the world with economic growth. In order to realize its growth as a peaceful presence, it became its national policy to “step forward) in the international community in the arena of politics, diplomacy and cultural advancement. By growth as peaceful presence, it means China’s development as a pacifist power. To achieve this end, it is necessary for the country to improve its international image.

However, the country’s aggressive stance toward internationalization only began in early 21st century. In reality, arguments within the country in the 1990s have been inward-looking, with only passive interest toward international involvement and globalization. With the democratic movement squashed with military force following the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, China sustained a setback with economic sanctions imposed by Western nations. Followed by the downfall of the Soviet Union/Eastern Europe bloc, the country faced the threat of collapse. Amid these developments, the country pursued an open-door policy and reform in its economy, making a full transition into a market economy and achieved rapid economic growth.

Politically, however, it has maintained its one-party regime and had continued to strengthen government control of the media. The reason for banning in fusion of private sector and foreign capital into the highly influential media of television and newspaper is the alarm that the government is experiencing over possible external intervention in the nation.

In January 2001 when China was to join WTO shortly, a symposium on Chinese film and TV industry was held by the China University Film & TV Society (?), Beijing Broadcasting Institute (currently Communication University of China) and other organizations. The abstract of the arguments at the symposium has been published under the title “Globalization and the Fate of China’s Film & Television” (published by Beijing Broadcasting School Publishing(?)). The introductory paper by Peng Jizeng, professor at Beijing University, is titled “Motion Picture and Television Arts of the Chinese People in the Language Environment under Globalization.” In it, the author argues that globalization has the aspect of aggression by imperialism of the post-colonial period and expressed strong alarm over “cultural imperialism” through cultural invasion. Of course, the author did not only show alarm in face of WTO membership. He has also stated the need to foster exchange while maintaining a sense of alarm.

“In the globalization process, not only is there contradiction between industrialized nations and developing countries but gap and contradiction among industrialized nations and among developing countries, as well as gap and contraction between sovereign nations and multinational corporations.

Especially for developing countries, it is necessary to participate actively in modernization of the world and globalization of the economy while preventing cultural protectionism in the process. On the other hand, we need to be cautious of aggression by cultural imperialism and maintain cultural fusion by accepting modernness while maintaining ethnic characteristics, boost cultural exchange with other countries and preserve China’s own unique culture.”

Professor Peng has also pointed to the difficulty for China’s motion picture and TV industry to enter the mainstream markets in the international community, saying that “there are still many more issues that must be resolved, and a significant length of time is necessary for connection of Chinese TV with the broad international market.” Quoting comments by other researchers, he continued, “Many persons in the TV industry still lacks understanding toward the global TV content market and have not yet acquired the habit of program development based on international standards and with a global perspective.”

The Challenge in the 21st Century Is To Gain International Competitiveness

As mentioned earlier, the Chinese TV industry, particularly CCTV that ranks as the top broadcasting organization, grew into what it is now under the protection of the government’s media policy, producing 24-hour English-language programming such as Channel 9. However, it has evaded head-on competition against international TV stations in the process. The TV industry not only keeps out foreign capital but also does not allow reception of foreign TV broadcasts as a general rule. It had not gained competitiveness through competition with international TV capital. For this reason, the lack of competitiveness pointed out by Professor Peng has resulted in structural issues in the Chinese TV industry, rather than the lack of awareness among TV industry insiders.

In an article titled “The Predicament of Chinese TV Drama ‘Stepping Forward (Overseas Market Entry)'” that had been published in the 16th issue of Xinhua News Agency’s current issue journal Global, investigative news research is conducted on the question of the huge trade gap of 10:1 in cultural properties with foreign countries, looking into the reason for the enormous deficits in China’s cultural property trade. In the article, opinions of culture critics such as the following are quoted.

“The primary reason why China’s TV drama is not able to gain a share in the international market is because Chinese drama is overly self-conscious, as if manufacturing cars inside the house and with attention only to the domestic market. These programmers become self-satisfied when gaining a bit of profit and lack in resolve to cultivate the vast international market and the eagerness and drive for advancement.”

“If China’s TV drama is to truly ‘step forward,’ it is necessary to consciously play down the emphasis on ethnicity and local traditions. Deliberate pursuit of universal values is necessary.”

This suggestion has been aimed at Chinese drama but in fact is not limited to this category alone. In the case of Channel 9, clearly established to play the role of external publicity, it is easily imaginable that there is strong emphasis of Chinese ethnicity and local traditions and strong sense of patriotism, just reading the name of programs cited by Cao Ri.

In the 1990s, Chinese movies were able to gain a presence in the global market to a certain extent. This was due to the content that promoted empathy, such as brotherly love, with less emphasis on patriotic and propaganda tendencies, while retaining a sense of ethnicity and regional culture.

“Elevate the Effectiveness of Advertising” — Instruction from Premier Wen Jiabao

Is external publicity effective simply by emphasis of ethnicity and regionalism? Improvements must be made, in fact, by taking their effect into consideration. In his article “Establishment of China’s Contemporary Image and the Media,” Deputy Director(?) Liu Ming of the Contemporary International Affairs Research Center(?) of Communication University of China states that “even if China’s development should be peaceful and good, we should not think that other people will understand all about China.” Furthermore, he suggests that China should examine into accurate assessment of its position regarding issues on which conflicts occur constantly, such as human rights, trade, energy, Taiwan, military force, domestic intervention and crisis management, that draws the interest of the international community at large and to present “China’s solution” based on evidences, that is more acceptable to other countries.

In other words, the image of China is being spread widely in the international community through Western media, such as their TV broadcasts and news agencies. On the issues that have been pointed out by Liu Ming, a negative image of China has taken root. In response, what China needs to do is not to present its counterargument simply from the standpoint of ethnic nationalism and patriotism in a limited area such as the South Pacific and Africa but to face reality and to communicate information that is convincing and based on facts.

Since the turn of the century, Chinese diplomacy has evolved from alarm over globalization but to utilizing globalization as the opportunity to present diplomacy based on the new thinking of playing an aggressive role in the world as a responsible power. In external publicity, the policy that had been suggested by Liu Ming appears to be in the process of implementation.

For instance, Premier Wen Jiabao published an article titled “Historical Mission in the Early Stage of Socialism and a Number of Issues in China’s External Policy” in February 2007, roughly a month before his visit to Japan. In the article, Premier Wen argues that China is still in the “early stage of socialism” and it must move forward on “the path of peaceful development” by taking advantage of the globalization process for its development in the international community. For this purpose, he argues that “external publicity activities must be strengthened and improved.” He continues,” It is necessary to present to other countries our achievements in reform and liberalization, as well as in construction of a modern nation, both accurately and in good timing, as well as in full, and not to evade issues that exist in our country. By making effective use of external publicity that is diverse and dynamic and combining it with an exchange system, we need to engage in exchange with words that are easy to understand, as well as adopting an approach that is entertaining and easy to empathize, and improve the effectiveness of publicity. Through such efforts, we need to encourage others to view China’s development and its international role both rationally and objectively and to create an environment for favorable international opinion.”

Reform and Liberalization Are the Theme

Modern China has achieved dramatic progress through promotion of reform and liberalization policy. The current policy and its direction are not expected to change in the future. Although it may be important to spotlight traditional culture and ethnic mashed a listen, reform and liberalization are in fact something to be communicated as representative of China’s image of progress. In doing so, reform assumes the presence of problems that must be revamped. Without this, reports on achievement cannot be persuasive. This is what Premier Wen had said about “not evading the issues that exist in our country.”

However, Chinese media communication to the international community is very often strongly tinged with patriotism and traditionalism, showing that fear and alarm over globalization remains strong and are inclined to gloss over issues in the country. The inclination to conceal the presence of problems comes from the limited freedom granted to domestic news coverage and to the history of media development in isolation and without exposure to international competition.

China’s role in the international community is changing rapidly. For the country to strongly promote its image of reform and liberalization that are the driving force of its growth and to boost publicity effect, it is clear that it is necessary to restructure and liberalize its external publicity and international broadcasting systems themselves. In this respect, close attention must be paid on Channel 9, on how it will move forward in the direction of reform and liberalization.

Kiyoshi Takai

Professor, Graduate School of International Media and Communication, Hokkaido University

Kiyoshi Takai is a Professor at Graduate School of International Media Communications, Hokkaido University since 1999. He joined the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1972 with a B.A. in Chinese Studies at Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. As a journalist, he was an overseas reporter in Tehran, Shanghai, and Beijing before he was an editorialist. His publications include "Chinese Nationalism and Media Analysis" (Akashi Shoten, 2005), "60 Chapters to know Contemporary China" (Akashi Shoten, 2003), "Reading of China Reports" (Iwanami Shoten, 2002), "Reading of the 21st. Century China" (Soso-sha, 1999), "Reading of China Information" (Soso-sha 1996), and "Shanghai, a Reviving City of Liberty" (Yomiuri Shimbun, 1993).

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