Whether it be Rush Limbaugh or NPR, liberals and conservatives both like to complain about various elements of American radio. But there’s a new player in town that has no relationship with any domestic partisan tradition: according to a series of exposés in Reuters, the Chinese government has covertly (and likely illegally) been buying large interests in radio stations across the U.S. and around the world:
A Reuters investigation spanning four continents has identified at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries that are part of a global radio web structured in a way that obscures its majority shareholder: state-run China Radio International, or CRI.
Many of these stations primarily broadcast content created or supplied by CRI or by media companies it controls in the United States, Australia and Europe. Three Chinese expatriate businessmen, who are CRI’s local partners, run the companies and in some cases own a stake in the stations. The network reaches from Finland to Nepal to Australia, and from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
One station Reuters highlights, WCRW, conveniently broadcasts from just outside Washington, D.C. In its coverage of U.S. freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea last week, the station explained that “external forces” were trying “to insert themselves into this part of the world using false claims.”
The whole story is full of troubling revelations, and you can read this smart analysis from Heritage Senior Fellow Mike Gonzalez for more depth. As Gonzalez points out, it’s particularly concerning that the U.S. government had no idea about China’s interests in American radio until Reuters informed them. But it also underscores something we’ve said before about Russia: the West’s enemies are much better at propaganda than officials in Brussels and Washington often realize.
Western leaders rightly talk up the value of their own soft power—the power of the democratic ideal. But even if the West’s ideas really are better, it is naive to expect them to win over converts without constant vigilance and promotion.