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China Launches English Language TV Service

Matthew Garrahan in Los Angeles and Kathrin Hille in Beijing

China’s state-owned broadcaster has launched an aggressive international push to extend the country’s influence, opening a new headquarters in Washington that will broadcast English-language programming from the heart of the US capital.

A policeman patrols under a giant communist emblem on the Tiananmen Square on June 28, 2011 in Beijing, China.
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China Central Television, which produces the ruling Communist party’s news shows and other propaganda programs, is constructing a studio in Washington which will serve as its US broadcasting center.

It aims to begin broadcasting from the site by the middle of 2012 and produce up to six hours of original programming a day, according to people familiar with the plans.

CCTV has also built a studio facility in Nairobi, from where it will broadcast its English-language channel in Africa, and plans to open a broadcasting center in Europe, according to several people briefed on the plans.

“They have a very ambitious plan to increase distribution of their English language channel,” said one person familiar with the broadcaster’s expansion strategy.

“But they don’t want to go public with their plans until they’re ready.” CCTV did not respond to questions about the global expansion.

The push comes as the ruling Communist party counters what it sees as the negative image of China spread by Western media.

“The big four Western news agencies dominate about 80 per cent of the news flow, and if China wants to strengthen its soft power it must speak through its own media,” said Dong Tiance, a journalism professor at Jinan University.

“The strengthening of international broadcasting allows the world to understand us more thoroughly and increases our influence.”

CCTV has leased 36,000 sq ft at 1099 New York Avenue — three city blocks from Bloomberg’s offices in the city — and is hiring local staff to work at the facility.

The company is working to increase distribution of its English language channel in the US and has been searching for a high-profile figure to be the face of the channel, much in the same way that Al Jazeera, the Arab-centric news channel, used Sir David Frost, when it launched in 2006.

Teenagers surround a computer screen at the ChinaJoy Expo, also known as the China Digital Entertainment Expo and Conference, in Shanghai, China.
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CCTV is following the model established by Al Jazeera and is expanding globally, part of Beijing’s untiring efforts to build ‘soft power’ more in line with its growing political and economic weight in the world.

Its English channel is currently available in a limited number of US homes via cable and satellite providers, such as Dish Network, in areas where there are concentrated Chinese populations. However, the company is keen to increase the size of its US audience.

Taking CCTV global could prove to be a big challenge for the broadcaster.

It has been revamping its staid news programming, which tend to parrot party propaganda slogans and have become a laughing stock among many younger viewers accustomed to internet media and entertainment.

“Our past practice of strongly emphasizing our achievements maybe didn’t yield ideal results,” Prof Dong said.