Communicators question $7bn China 'Al Jazeera' plan

BEIJING: Industry experts have given a cautious thumbs-up to Chinese Government plans to spend US$7 billion expanding key domestic media outlets overseas.

CCTV building: news base
CCTV building: news base

The Chinese plan calls for national news channel CCTV, news agency Xinhua, and national daily People's Daily to develop their operations globally.

It is hoped that by doing so the media outlets can emulate the success that Al-Jazeera has achieved in representing the point of view of Middle Eastern countries. Xinhua, in particular, is believed to be planning 24-hour global news channel, according to local reports in China.

The developments come following a difficult year for China's international reputation, characterised best by Tibetan protests in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. PR agencies consulted at the time by Chinese Government ministries have revealed widespread surprise among officials that people overseas could disagree with China's views to such a marked extent.

Beijing-based PR consultant David Wolf, CEO of Wolf Group Asia, said that "the concept is very strong" but questioned whether the political will truly exists to execute the plan in the correct manner.

"To do this, they have to reach beyond their own internal resources," said Wolf. "That's problematic because the Chinese Government never wants to reach beyond its own internal resources. I'm not optimistic about the end result."

Weber Shandwick Asia-Pacific chairman Tim Sutton noted that the plan would entail a "steep learning curve" for the channels involved. "I wouldn't discourage it at all - it seems to be part of China continuing
to engage the world out there," he said. "But can they make the service sufficiently credible and do they have the ability to talk in a high-pressure, sceptical environment?"

Sutton's view was echoed by Edelman Asia-Pacific president Alan VanderMolen. "In theory, it's smart" he said. "Do I think it will happen in a credible way? No. Al Jazeera is a credible news organisation. CCTV don't go against official Government decisions."

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