China’s foreign propaganda news station, the China Global Television Network (CGTN), is recruiting foreign reporters around the globe, including Americans. They are offering cash payments and cash prizes in what they term their “Global Stringer” news program, adding to questions about the reliability of the journalism by CGTN. The program also raises concerns about the intersection between journalism and espionage.
“CGTN is looking to find English-speaking reporters, podcasters, presenters and influencers from all over the world. Sign up for the chance to win up to $10,000!,” says one CGTN tweet.
CGTN is looking to find English-speaking reporters, podcasters, presenters and influencers from all over the world. Sign up for the chance to win up to $10,000! https://t.co/Ft9axKdIGE https://t.co/KtBRPYQ75l
— The Media Challengers (@aMEDIAchallenge) April 23, 2021
An analysis of the list of stringers provided by CGTN shows at least two Americans so far have participated in the program, but the details provided on the list about the origins of the reporters are murky.
In 2019, CGTN registered as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act after pressure by the Trump administration to provide more transparency about propaganda activities in the U.S.
“The Foreign Agents Registration Act (known as FARA) was passed in 1938 to expose covert Nazi-influence campaigns in the U.S. It requires anyone doing lobbying or public-relations work for a foreign entity to register and file periodic updates with the Justice Department,” says the Wall Street Journal.
Registration as a foreign agent was one of the key issues at stake with General Michael Flynn’s prosecution, who was prosecuted for lying to the FBI about his registration.
A Reuters report earlier this year shows that American’s distrust of media is at an all-time low with only 29% of Americans trusting the news, the lowest amongst the nearly 50 countries polled.
With more media outlets like CGTN determined to serve an overtly political purpose and openly recruit U.S. citizens to work contrary to American interests, that trust will be further eroded.
Earlier this year, U.K. banned CGTN from the British television system—a step previously taken against Iranian state TV– and arrested several of the journalists as spies because they were believed to be working for Chinese State Security.
The British government found that CGTN is “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which is not permitted under UK broadcasting law”.
The Chinese government has spent literally billions of dollars building CGTN as its chief foreign propaganda arm, often using U.S. opposition research about political parties and political figures to amplify criticism of the U.S.
These arguments of course are made more powerful if made by American “reporters” rather than Chinese reporters. When these reporters are directed by editors and handlers who work for Chinese State Security is this journalism, propaganda or espionage?