US to restrict Chinese media outlets deemed 'propaganda'

Outlets will be required to submit a list of employees in the US as if they were foreign embassies or consulates.

    The front page of the Communist Party's flagship newspaper the People's Daily, which US officials on Monday deemed a 'propaganda' outlet [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]
    The front page of the Communist Party's flagship newspaper the People's Daily, which US officials on Monday deemed a 'propaganda' outlet [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

    The Trump administration on Monday added four Chinese media outlets to a list of organisations that should be considered "foreign missions" because of their ties to the government and the Communist Party in a move that is likely to further aggravate relations between the two countries.

    State Department officials said the four organisations, including CCTV, would be required to submit a list of all their employees in the US as well as any real estate holdings, just as they would if they were foreign embassies or consulates.

    None are being ordered to leave the US, and no limits on their activities were announced. But five other Chinese organisations were directed to cap the number of people who could work in the US in March - a month after they were designated as foreign missions.

    State Department officials said the organisations are essentially mouthpieces for the Communist Party and Chinese government, not legitimate news outlets.

    Xinhua News Agency
    Students for a Free Tibet protest below a new electronic billboard leased by Xinhua, the news agency operated by the Chinese government, in New York's Times Square in 2011 [File: Stan Honda/AFP]

    "The Communist Party does not just exercise operational control over these propaganda entities but has full editorial control over their content," said Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell. "This foreign mission designation is an obvious step in increasing transparency of these and other PRC government propaganda activities in the United States."

    The other three added to the list of foreign missions are the China News Service, the People's Daily newspaper and the Global Times.

    Its editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said the US decision aas "absurd" describing the Global Times, as "market-oriented media". The tabloid is owned by the People's Daily, which is published by the Chinese Communist Party.

    It is not yet clear how many journalists work in the US for the organisations that were designated on Monday.

    The US took similar actions against Soviet outlets during the Cold War. That precedent reflects the bitter state of relations between the US and China, which are at odds over the origin and response to the coronavirus, trade, human rights and other issues.

    US officials say the designated media outlets should be considered foreign missions under American law because they are "substantially owned or effectively controlled" by the government of the People's Republic of China and should not be treated like traditional news organisations.

    "These aren't journalists. These are members of the propaganda apparatus in the PRC," Stilwell said in a conference call with reporters.

    Asked about potential Chinese retaliation, Stilwell noted that American journalists working in China already faced tight restrictions on their activities.

    China had no immediate reaction to the announcement, but the foreign ministry accused the administration of harbouring a "Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice" when it applied the same designation to five other media organisations earlier this year.

    At that time, the administration applied the label to the Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International, the China Daily Distribution Corporation, which distributes the newspaper of the same name, and Hai Tian Development USA, which distributes the People's Daily newspaper.

    Then the US administration capped the number of journalists from the five allowed to work in the US at 100, down from about 160. At the time, the US cited China's increasingly harsh surveillance, harassment and intimidation of American and other foreign journalists in China.

    China announced in response that it would revoke the media credentials of all American journalists at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies