CCTV-9 is the global 24-hour English-language channel run by China Central Television (CCTV), the state-owned broadcaster of the People’s Republic of China (PRC; Newscast, 24-Hour). CCTV-9 has a dual function: (1) to provide news and information about China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao in line with government policy, and (2) to provide news and information about world affairs from a PRC perspective. CCTV-9 is available globally via satellite, cable, and the Internet. Its target audience is foreigners, both inside and outside the PRC. It plays a key role in wai xuan or “external publicity,” projecting for the PRC what Joseph Nye (2004) calls “soft power.”
CCTV-9 was launched on September 25, 2000, when the English-language programming was split off from CCTV’s overseas-oriented channel, CCTV-4, which then became a global 24-hour Mandarin-language service. CCTV-9 and CCTV-4 are part of the Overseas Service Center at CCTV, which also operates a 24-hour global Spanish and French channel, CCTV E&F.
On May 3, 2004, CCTV-9 was relaunched as CCTV International, although it retains the channel identification CCTV-9. The relaunch was ordered by the Communist Party of China (CPC) Politburo member in charge of publicity, Li Changchun, who in 2003 had called for the creation of “China’s CNN.” The idea of emulating CNN, understood as an instrument of state power, had been circulating since at least 2001, when it was used to describe CCTV-9’s role in the “going out” project.
The “going out” project was part of a long-term strategy to make the PRC’s external publicity internationally competitive (Xu 2002). In April 2003, media involved in wai xuan were told to check whether reports helped create an international environment conducive to the PRC, whether they improved the PRC’s image abroad, and whether they were conducive to safeguarding national security and stability. Media were charged with providing accurate information about the PRC’s opening up, reform, and development, and promoting reunification with Taiwan as well as promoting the PRC’s stated desire for world peace, development, and common prosperity.
In September 2003, Li Changchun further announced that CCTV-9 had to take issues such as the economy and travel, which Li delineated as of interest to foreigners, as the starting point for reporting, and at the same time to report the world’s news, including news about the PRC, in a timely fashion. The goal was to make CCTV-9 an “international news channel in the genuine sense” (CCTV 2003).
The relaunch of CCTV-9 as CCTV International was aimed at creating a rolling news service that would eventually compete with channels like CNN International, the BBC World Service and Al Jazeera International. The ambiguity of a channel that is both an instrument of state power and committed to becoming an international news channel was glossed in the realization of Li’s directive. The editorial policy at CCTV-9 was to report foreign news according to international norms, and foreign policy and domestic news in line with official policy. As a result, sensitive topics were variously reported from the government’s point of view, toned down, or ignored. CCTV- 9 was best understood as a hybrid channel that served both as a rolling news channel and as a government publicity organ, an amalgam of public service broadcaster like the BBC, commercial news channel like CNN, and propaganda channel like Voice of America.
CCTV-9 had a budget of 100 million renminbi (US$12 million in 2005 figures) and about 300 staff, of whom some 30 were foreign nationals. Foreigners were employed primarily to copyedit stories and programs written or translated by domestic staff. Foreigners also worked as program hosts and news anchors. As part of its relationship with CCTV, News Corporation provided CCTV-9 with consultants who periodically visited Beijing to advise management on strategies for targeting foreign audiences and to train program-makers and reporters. CCTV subscribed to the news wire and video services provided by Associated Press and Reuters, which provided the raw video and scripts for over 80 percent of the foreign news. Most of CCTV-9’s domestic and foreign policy news programming was translated and rewritten from CCTV-1 (CCTV’s flagship channel), and CCTV-4. CCTV-9 produced some of its own feature and entertainment programming and the reporting team generated about 10 percent of the news. CCTV-9 had video exchange agreements with several foreign broadcasters, but rarely used them.
CCTV-9 had two major departments, news and current affairs, and features. In 2007, the news and current affairs department had about 200 personnel and was providing 94 hours (56 percent) of programming weekly. The features department had 100 personnel and provided 74 hours (44 percent) of programming. Most news and current affairs were broadcast live. All feature programming was taped, and usually repeated once or twice daily.
The audience for CCTV-9 was difficult to measure. CCTV did not include figures for CCTV-9 in its weekly ratings survey. Although the channel had become an indispensable instrument for foreigners living in the PRC with no access to other English-language programming, the bulk of CCTV-9’s audience was thought to be local Chinese, most of them using it to help them learn English. In 2005, CCTV publicity materials claimed that the channel had 2.3 million subscribers outside the PRC.
- CCTV (2003). CCTV internal memorandum (unpublished).
- CCTV International (2005). Your window on China and the world: home page. At http://english.cctv.com/index.shtml, accessed September 5, 2007.
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