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Beijing launching a 'Chinese CNN' to burnish image abroad

But winning credibility as an objective news source will be a hurdle, experts say.

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China's current efforts to make its case internationally, mainly through CCTV's English, Spanish, and French channels, have had "quite bad results" admits Yu, partly because "they ignore Western audience's requirement of balance."

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That kind of propaganda, he insists, will have no place in the planned TV station's broadcasts. "We will try to produce news the way that Western media do," he says. "Only by reporting objectively can we create a respected and influential TV channel."

But American efforts to establish a government-backed news channel abroad have also struggled to win credibility as an objective source of information. Al-Hurra ("The Free One"), an Arabic-language TV station launched in 2004 and broadcast in the Middle East, has failed to gain much of a following.

To emphasize its aspirations for independence, China's news station will be based abroad, perhaps in Singapore or Thailand, Yu explains, and Xinhua, which has been tasked with launching the channel, will seek private investors as partners.

Control vs. credibility

Some observers, however, are dubious. "Control of the media is absolutely paramount for the [Communist] party," argues David Bandurski, who heads the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.

"They are not going to dispense with the notion that media control is central to their power in one fell swoop," he adds.

Certainly Mr. Li gave no signs of such a reversal in his speech at CCTV headquarters. "We must enhance our consciousness of politics ... firmly establishing the Marxist view of journalism," he insisted, "constantly improving our capacity to correctly guide public opinion."

Mr. Bandurski sees the Chinese government's international media plans as the global dimension of its new approach to news management – actively seeking to influence the agenda rather than relying on simple censorship.

"They recognize that when they censor, they just create a vacuum" likely to be filled by Western reporting the authorities do not like, says Bandurski.

Censoring can also be inconsistent in its rigidity. When a protester hurled a shoe at Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during his speech this week at England's Cambridge University, one CCTV channel cut away from its coverage while another kept on broadcasting.

"The new focus," Bandurski continues, "is on how to drive the agenda."

News is a matter of national security in China, and the authorities sometimes frame their forays into the world of international media in military terms; officials have likened big media groups, for example, to aircraft carriers, acting as platforms for the projection of Chinese interests.

"The outreach effort is very natural because of the growing strength of the nation," says Professor Gong. "They [officials] are clear about what to say but they don't know how to say it with the best results."

And so long as the party insists on controlling the media, China will have difficulty convincing foreign viewers to consider its point of view, he adds. "They have realized the problem of cross-cultural communications, but before serious political reform takes place they cannot do much."

Bandurski puts it more bluntly. "They've got a lot to learn," he says, "about how to create credibility."

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