A special investigative report from Reuters published on Monday details the expanding network of radio stations across the U.S. covertly controlled by State broadcaster China Radio International.
The CRI-backed stations in the United States broadcast in more than a dozen American cities, including Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Houston and San Francisco, and are part of a wider global radio network comprising at least 33 such radio stations in 14 countries. They offer a mix of news, music and cultural programs that are all China-friendly. News segments often focus on China’s development, such as its space program, as well as its contribution to humanitarian causes.
Many of the shows are highly professional and indistinguishable from mainstream American radio shows, while others are much less polished with some broadcasters even speaking English with noticeable Chinese accents.
The stations primarily broadcast content created or supplied by CRI and generally avoid any criticism of China. Their political angle noticeably reflects the Chinese government’s rhetoric on issues, such as the current tension in the South China Sea between China and the United States. For example:
In August, foreign ministers from 10 nations blasted China for building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. As media around the world covered the diplomatic clash, a radio station that serves the most powerful city in America had a distinctive take on the news.
Located outside Washington, D.C., WCRW radio made no mention of China’s provocative island project. Instead, an analyst explained that tensions in the region were due to unnamed “external forces” trying “to insert themselves into this part of the world using false claims.”
In a similar vein another story on the cyber hacking was broadcast in Washington and other U.S. cities, on a station known as City News, which conveniently left out some rather important information:
It reported that U.S. officials were concerned about cyber attacks, including one in which the personal information of about 20 million American government workers was allegedly stolen. The broadcast left out a key element: It has been widely reported that U.S. officials believe China was behind that hack.
CRI-backed radio stations carry out a similar role to that of the U.S.-run Voice of America. VOA, however, openly publishes the fact that it receives U.S. government funding while CRI hide its role. One program, The Beijing Hour, says it is “brought to you by China Radio International” but many other stations make no mention of this fact.
Simply not mentioning that fact seems to have done much to fool U.S. regulators:
China has a number of state-run media properties, such as the Xinhua news agency, that are well-known around the world. But American officials charged with monitoring foreign media ownership and propaganda said they were unaware of the Chinese-controlled radio operation inside the United States until contacted by Reuters. A half-dozen former senior U.S. officials said federal authorities should investigate whether the arrangement violates laws governing foreign media and agents in the United States.
While CRI itself doesn’t hold ownership stakes in U.S. stations, it has majority share via a subsidiary in the company that owns Beijing-based group Guoguang Century Media Consultancy. Guoguang in turn owns 60 percent of three media companies created by Chinese expatriate businessmen that span the globe; in Europe, GBTimes; in Asia-Pacific, Global CAMG Media Group; in North America, G&E Studio Inc.
“We are not the evil empire that some Western media portray us to be,” said a person close to the Communist Party leadership in Beijing who is familiar with the CRI network. “Western media reports about China are too negative. We just want to improve our international image. It’s self-protection.”
“This is about selling China’s story to the world,” said Jichang Lulu, an independent researcher on China. “The explicit intention is to portray the content as coming from an independent party, while in fact broadcasting the views of the Chinese government.”
In the wake of the report’s revelations, the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department have begun an investigation into one particular California company.
“Based on reports, the FCC will initiate an inquiry into the facts surrounding the foreign ownership issues raised in the stories, including whether the Commission’s statutory foreign ownership rules have been violated,” FCC spokesman Neil Grace said.
The firm in question is G&E Studio, owned by Shanghai born James Su, now a naturalized US citizen, and is 60% owned by CRI.
While the FCC monitors indecency and political advertising, it otherwise doesn’t restrict content on U.S. radio stations. It does, however, prohibit foreign governments or their representatives from holding a radio license for a U.S. broadcast station. Foreign individuals, governments and corporations are only allowed up to 20% ownership directly in a station and up to 25% in the U.S. parent corporation of a station.
U.S. law also requires anyone inside the U.S. seeking to influence American policy or public opinion on behalf of a foreign government or group to register with the Justice Department. Public records show that neither Su nor his companies are registered as foreign agents under the law.
When interviewed Su said that he is simply a businessman, and not an agent for China. “Our U.S. audience and our U.S. public has the choice,” he said. “They can choose to listen or not listen. I think this is an American value.”
CRI in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Washington declined to be interviewed or to comment on the findings of the Reuters article.
Xi Jinping himself said in November, “We should increase China’s soft power, give a good Chinese narrative and better communicate China’s message to the world.” His recent state visits to the U.S. and UK certainly seen to reflect those words, we wonder if he listened to any radio while he was overseas.
By Daniel Paul