While in recent times the role of Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera in catalysing political change has been a much observed phenomenon, relatively few people are even aware that Xinhua – which began life as the Red China News Agency in 1931 and which is presently owned by the Chinese state – launched an international, English language 24- hour news channel in July 2010: CNC World.
This may not ordinarily be of much significance: China has had an English medium channel since the September 2000 launch of China Central Television‘s CCTV International – now named CCTV News – and it is safe to say that this outlet, with its reputation for repetition of the Communist Party of China (‘CCP’) line, has not exactly pushed the broadcasting envelope. However, CNC World promises to be different: Chinese media officials have stated that CNC World will be ‘an unbiased global news network that offers objective, comprehensive, in-depth and multi-dimensional news coverage and an alternative source of information for the global audience.’
This is a remarkable goal because it reflects a realisation that notwithstanding the fact that the PRC languishes in 171st place out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010, on the international stage Chinese media needs to be perceived as objective in order to be credible. And this in turn leads to a beguiling paradox: if CNC World wishes to be a credible news outlet, this will inevitably involve giving airtime to dissenting voices from within China; however, this risks increasing internal instability, which is anathema to the sensibilities of the CCP. Conversely, CNC World could end up resembling channels such as RT or Press TV – networks which carry some interesting and valuable programming but which are not generally regarded as fully trusted sources – but then its ability to shape the international news agenda would be highly circumscribed.
Al Jazeera first aired on 1st November 1996; within fifteen years it has had an impact beyond even the most idealistic journalist’s fantasies. In 2025, will CNC World be looked at in a similar light?