The rise of CGTN closely mirrors the broader arch of modern Chinese history. Under Chairman Mao Zedong, the aim of Chinese media was not only to unify a territorially gargantuan territory recently scarred by civil war and separate, autonomous warlord rule, but also sought political agency and an end to the epochs of humiliation of China and Chinese people brought on by the imperialists, which, as all forms of imperialism elsewhere, came with the corollary of undermining of Chinese history, norms and values.
This is the early phase of CCTV; self-understanding and presenting itself as a people’s television. Perhaps because of this, in this germination phase of its existence, the network was inward-looking.
Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, CCTV turned its focus and mandate onto telling the story of how China had grown its economy at such a rarified rate and in such a short period of time. As early as 1981, the network was considering the formation an English-speaking global news program. Through this, the successful story of China was told to the wider world.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has embarked on a new set of ambitions. The 19th Communist Party of China National Congress has set the country on a path towards playing an even greater role in the world; media is essential to this. Modernizing China and building a global community with a shared future. Building opportunities to the world through the Belt and Road Initiative.
CCTV’s pursuit of this goal has been demonstrated in even the network’s self-branding. Not for nothing was it renamed China Global Television Network in late 2016; its focus is clearly defined, and its mandate renewed. The renaming also reflects how it has spread its geographical focus.
“Building up a global prestigious media is a key thing,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping in the CPC conference of news and communication.
CGTN is spreading a more unifying message which aims to unite peoples of the world, and unlike the Western media, instead of perpetuating (sometimes with a lack of self-awareness), it seeks to avoid the danger of a singular story. Instead, CGTN seeks to be people-centered and avoid spreading one view of economic and political developments. It avoids spreading “revolutions”, a sometimes defining feature of other global networks of similar size.
In the African continent, CGTN has become a reliable developmental partner; showcasing an Africa worthy and absorptive of investment, and simultaneously highlighting areas in need of global attention. It tells stories of African peoples and cultures. It tells these in a manner that respects local cultures and languages. It is no overstatement to say that it has strengthened the existing strong bond between Africans and Chinese.
In an era in which the Western world is becoming undemocratic and anti-globalization, CGTN has become a reliable voice in the reportage and pursuit of global peace and security; while Fox News and even NBC could not help but admire the “prowess” of American military might when US President Trump dropped the so-called Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) earlier this year in Afghanistan, CGTN took the path of fair reporting.
Further, if not for the name, one would not be aware that the network was Chinese. It avoids imposing the Chinese dream onto the world and instead promotes dreams of others. In effect, this is globalization with different characteristics and with neither conformity nor epistemic subordination.
There is no doubt that through CGTN, China will share its development strategy with the world and also learn from those of others. In the process documentaries could be improved, and the network should do more to promote environmental protection and mutual learning. In this process, other role-players should be tapped; in Africa, Confucius Institutes, for example, are in the same line of work and axiomatic collaborators; indeed, they are critical to most of CGTN’s aims at every level. Particularly and readily available for cooperation is the mutual goal of promoting anti-racism and anti-imperialist in the spirit of Bandung conference of 1955.
The network could also do more to be readily accessible. To begin with, it should come to be watched by the hundreds of millions of ordinary people in Africa. At the moment it remains a channel of elites through DSTV, and thus has not entered the ordinary person’s living room. It should seriously and rapidly find ways in which government or public channels can also air CGTN.
CGTN has some wonderful years behind it, but there is no doubt that its prospects are bright, and there are many opportunities for it to penetrate.