Behind the scenes at China TV: soft power and state propaganda

I spoke to the Financial Times for an article on China’s Communist Party-controlled international broadcaster CGTN. The article was five months in the making. The Financial Times eventually spoke to 12 former CGTN employees like myself. I was the first person the reporter spoke to, and got the ball rolling on bringing others in as well. My decision to go on the record also encouraged others to do so (though most dared not). Here is an excerpt:

The primetime English-language news show by China’s state broadcaster was about to go on air when a copy editor in Beijing was handed a script that needed an urgent last-minute polish. Gary Anglebrandt’s job at China Global Television Network was to check for errors in grammar and spelling before passing the text to the on-duty laoshi — teacher in Mandarin — who controls all copy for political correctness before anything goes on air.

When his colleague approached him with the “sheepish look” of a person carrying something “abhorrent”, he realised something was wrong. It turned out to be the pre-trial confession of Simon Cheng, a former employee of the UK consulate in Hong Kong, who has since claimed he was tortured by police and forced to admit to the crimes that warranted his detention.

“I knew there was no point in going to the producer and saying ‘we’re not going to run this,’” says Anglebrandt, who worked for the broadcaster between 2016 and 2019 and has provided a rare insight into its operations. “They will say ‘it came from upstairs, we have to run it.’”

Anglebrandt, who had at the time already handed in his resignation as he did not feel comfortable with CGTN’s coverage of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, adds: “If you say no, you are essentially going against the entire Chinese system.”

This pressure from “upstairs” that Anglebrandt describes is one of the main reasons the channel has clashed with media regulators in some of the western countries it has targeted. … Read the full article at (Subscription required.)