Journalists and Members of the public record the swearing of Kisii Governor Paul Simba Arati and his Deputy Robert Monda at Gusii stadium on 25/8/2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Chinese authorities have been put on the spot over global media influence to portray itself in a positive light, especially in Central Asia.

This is in a bid to spread its political ideas and extending its reach and shaping discourse.

Media reports indicate in 2016, China and Kyrgyzstan set up a new media outlet in Bishkek, and a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience, was one of the dozens of professionals hired to run it.

The veteran journalist recalled how undue pressure from directors was constant to avoid criticism of initiative projects and to publish only stories that portrayed China in a positive light.

Given a top editing role, he was dealing with the newspaper which is published in Kyrgyz, Russian and Chinese. Though at the start he thought that this is an opportunity to promote understanding between the neighbours. However, the truth soon surfaced for him.

For instance, over the year’s China's entry into Africa had been told by the Western media, African press, blogs and other online news platforms. 

But in recent years, China opted to narrate its stories by setting up of China Central Television in Nairobi set pace for this development.

The state-owned media’s intention was to strengthen news coverage in Africa, with the objective of promoting cooperation between China and African countries on politics, economy, trade and culture.

To make this a reality, the media giant engaged in radical strategies that have seen it hire some of the best journalists in the region. This appears to have been its key selling point in expanding its global news coverage capabilities in Africa. 

The entry into Africa of CCTV, China Daily Weekly, Xinhua, StarTimes, China Radio International, among others has already complicated the media landscape that has for a long time been dominated by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Atlanta-based Cable News Network (CNN) and Al Jazeera, an independent broadcaster owned by the state of Qatar.

While these traditional media players took a focus on conflict, always negative stories about Africa, the new entrants seem to concentrate more on positive, issue-based stories, a strategy they refer to as constructive journalism.

Another rhetoric that the Chinese asked the outlet to carry was the charity work done by Chinese companies in the Central Asian nation. After a year, the journalist left the outlet. "They are ready to pay to distribute their politics, their ideas [in Kyrgyzstan]," Murat said of China. "It's political propaganda," reported Nikkei Asia.

The media influence efforts by China have increased over the years. Moreover, a report published this month by Freedom House, a US nonprofit democracy watchdog, said that more than half the countries in a 30-nation analysis were experiencing a "very high" or "high" degree of efforts by China to influence the media outlets

In 18 countries, the intensity of these efforts increased over the past three years.

The Chinese Communist Party "and its proxies are using more sophisticated and coercive tactics to shape media narratives and suppress critical reporting," the report says.

"Mass distribution of Beijing-backed content via mainstream media, harassment and intimidation of outlets that publish news or opinions disfavored by the Chinese government, and the use of cyberbullying, fake social media accounts, and targeted disinformation campaigns are among the tactics that have been employed more widely since 2019."

The report adds that while many markets resist this pressure, "Beijing's tactics are simultaneously becoming more sophisticated, more aggressive and harder to detect."