China is trying to improve its image abroad. Programs produced by state agencies show the country at its best. Partly for a fee, they run in the program of German local stations.
A Saturday evening, just before half past six. In the program of the private regional broadcaster Sachsen-Fernsehen: drone recordings. They show picturesque Saxony, venerable architecture, healthy forests and water bodies that glitter in the sunlight. A few moments later, at prime time, the world looks surprisingly different here. Because now “China Info” is running.
The program is structured like a journalistic magazine with various film contributions. Sometimes it’s about a traditional art carver who talks about his work philosophy, then about heroic stories from China’s mountains. Although the entries differ in subject matter, they are similar in their efforts to portray China and its rich culture in the most positive way possible. German subtitles also help here, because many of the films originally have the soundtrack in Chinese.
Editorial acceptance “not always possible”
For Jan Kaufhold, who heads the Leipzig office of Sachsen-Fernsehen, China is a popular travel destination. “This is clearly about presenting tourist, cultural or sporting content about this country,” he says in an interview with the NDRmedia magazine ZAPP.
It also turns out that the show “China-Info” is not produced by Sachsen-Fernsehen itself, but is supplied. Sachsen- Fernsehen only broadcasts them for a fee and editorial approval is not always possible, admits Jan Kaufhold. In the program, the program is therefore marked as advertising, as required by media law.
In linear television, that may be true. However, there are also films in the Sachsen-Fernsehen media library that are not labeled accordingly. A 45-minute documentary, for example, in which a German emigrant explains in English that the Chinese city of Taicang is a better home.
But here, too, Jan Kaufhold declines. “If it’s something where no money is flowing and where we see a certain editorial added value for our viewers, then we can also say we’ll include it in our program, just like every other television station does in the end.” .
Specifications of communist Political party
Sachsen-fernsehen could or wanted to know who is behind the chinese programs ZAPP– Do not name the request exactly. In the case of the documentary about the German emigrant, the research led to a Facebook page operated by the Chinese government: “China Mosaic”. Large parts of the film were uploaded here – even before it ended up in the Sachsen-Fernsehen media library.
Other films in the media center are branded “GLOBAlink”. The research revealed that it originally came from Xinhua, China’s largest state news agency. It reports to the Chinese Ministry of Information and receives guidelines from the Communist Party’s propaganda department.
Critical reporting, such as human rights violations against Uyghurs in northwest China’s Xinjiang, will not be found there.
With positive reporting drown out problems
Sinologist Mareike Ohlberg has been dealing with Chinese foreign and media policy as well as propaganda for years. She explains that “Xinhua” has an official government mandate to improve China’s image, transform global narratives and change global debates in the long term. “And that’s ultimately the problem,” says Ohlberg, “that you’re just trying to drown out the reporting of problems with other positive content, or at least counter it with something.”
But not only Sachsen-Fernsehen broadcasts the material from “Xinhua”. At the time of the research, other regional broadcasters can also be linked to the news agency from China. Including “Hauptstadt TV” from Berlin, “Regio TV from Stuttgart” and “Hamburg1”.
China PR also in Hamburg?
Last fall, the Chinese state shipping company COSCO wanted to acquire shares in a container terminal in the port of Hamburg. The reaction to this: a nationwide debate. At this time, Hamburg1 also published “GLOBAlink” articles on the Internet. On the phone, a former manager speaks of “German-Chinese friendship.”
He doesn’t want to conduct an interview in front of the camera, neither does the new management. She explains that the show has now been discontinued. However, television magazines such as “HÖRZU” still report the show.
There is an agency in Frankfurt that is said to have supplied Hamburg1 with films: Guang Hua is a Chinese media company with offices in Paris and London. It also lists Xinhua as a partner on its website.
The editor-in-chief of Guang Hua declined an interview, but said by email: He thinks it’s a pity “that the German media don’t want to see the development and progress in China and have presented a completely wrong image of China. China has a lot of Learned from Germany and now overtaking Germany. Germany can also learn a lot from China.” He therefore hopes that even more people in Germany will see his programs.
On request from ZAPP With the exception of Sachsen-Fernsehen, no broadcaster wanted to comment on the research. Those responsible also left unanswered the question of how much money they get for playing the advertising programs.