US orders Chinese state media to register as foreign agents

Our Foreign Staff
The move could see access to the government limited  - REUTERS

The US government has ordered two Chinese state media outlets to register as foreign agents, according to reports, in a move that could limit their access.

State news media newswire Xinhua and broadcaster China Global Television - formerly known as CCTV - have reportedly been told to register under the US’s Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Doing so would classify the organisations as lobbyists for a foreign entity, requiring them to disclose activities and spending, and to introduce disclaimers regarding content disseminated on all platforms including social media.

Registering could also limit access going forward; Russian broadcaster RT lost its congressional press credentials after registering under the act.

China’s Foreign Ministry Geng Shuang said that Beijing had reached out to the US regarding the issue.

“Countries should understand the media’s role in promoting international exchange and cooperation in an open and inclusive spirit,” he said on Wednesday. “They need to facilitate rather than obstruct media’s normal work.”

The move, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes at a delicate time for US-China relations, and as concerns have grown in Washington over foreign influence in America.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump escalated trade tensions by announcing further tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese exports to the US Beijing responded in kind with tariffs on $60 billion for goods moving the other way.

Mr Trump has ramped up a trade war with Beijing Credit: Reuters

Mr Geng's comments are not, however, reflective of Chinese government practices and attitudes toward foreign journalists.

In China, the government accredits international reporters through the foreign ministry and places restrictions on reporter movements.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China conducts an annual study on reporting conditions in China, and found the situation had deteriorated in 2017.

Journalists whose coverage had offended authorities were forced to leave the country when the ministry refused to renew their press credentials, which are typically reviewed each year.

Chinese state media on the other hand have expanded their presence significantly in the US without much restriction. In 2012, CGTN established operations in Washington DC, building a sleek broadcast center and hiring away journalists from NBC, Bloomberg and other Western news organisations.

Xinhua has also occupied prime advertising space in New York’s Times Square.

Most recently in 2016, the state media outlet paid for a video to be played on a giant screen promoting China’s role and standing in the South China Sea, where the country has engaged in territorial disputes with other Asian nations.

Paid inserts of state-run newspaper China Daily now as well appear in major newspapers including the New York Times and the Washington Post. Newspaper boxes distributing the state paper have popped up in US cities from Honolulu to Washington.

The company that distributes the paper is already registered under FARA.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act was enacted in 1938 in efforts to combat a flood of German propaganda leading up to World War II.

The purpose is to insure the government and general public is aware of the source of information and identify of various individuals or organisations “attempting to influence US public opinion, policy, and laws,” according to a government website about the law.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which provides recommendations to US lawmakers, has suggested the law be strengthened to require all staff of Chinese state media to individually register under the act.