Pak, China plan to create media house to challenge West’s ‘info dominance’

Jun 07, 2021 06:05 PM IST

The two countries are exploring the possibility of creating an organisation on the lines of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera or Russia’s RT network, complete with journalists of international stature, which would be backed by Chinese funding

Pakistan and China are working on plans to create a television channel and media organisation with the aim of achieving “information dominance” and offering an alternative to the narrative of Western news media, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

Representational image. (AFP)
Representational image. (AFP)

The two countries are exploring the possibility of creating an organisation on the lines of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera or Russia’s RT network, complete with journalists of international stature, which would be backed by Chinese funding, the people said.

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The thinking behind the move is that China’s internal dynamics preclude an open media but the country has financial muscle, while Pakistan’s internal scenario is favourable for such a media organisation but the state lacks financial resources, the people said, citing internal documents accessed by Indian security agencies.

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The two countries feel there is a need for a media house of the stature of Al-Jazeera and RT to “propel amenable narratives” and such an organisation could be established in Pakistan and funded by China to achieve the objectives of both sides, the people added.

The move comes on the heels of Pakistan’s failed effort about two years ago to launch an English television channel along with Turkey and Malaysia that was to have projected a correct image of Islam and confronted challenges due to Islamophobia. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had spoken about the venture following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad in New York in September 2019.

That project was apparently shelved last year because of lack of interest from Turkey and Malaysia and there have been no updates from the Pakistani side.

The people also pointed to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s remarks at a May 31 meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party about the need to create a “trustworthy, lovable and respectable” image for the country and said this reflected a move by Beijing to tone down its recent “wolf warrior” diplomacy.

Xi told senior Communist Party leaders that the country must “make friends extensively, unite the majority and continuously expand its circle of friends with those who understand and are friendly to China”, according to state-run Xinhua news agency. China needs “a grip on tone” in its communications with the world and should “be open and confident, but also modest and humble”, he said.

One of the people cited above said: “The current project aims to establish a media house to project a so-called correct image of Pakistan. Though the documents do not refer to China directly in terms of content, the very fact that financing would be provided by China is proof that China intends to use this channel as a platform to improve its image.”

One of the documents accessed by security agencies states that China is competing with the West in technology and economy but lags in “information dominance”. It further states that in a world dominated by social media, winning the “battle of narrative is more important than winning of physical battle”, and domination in technology and economy may not be fully realised without domination in the information domain.

The proposed media organisation will build “capacity to contest inimical narratives through counter or alternate narratives” and that Sino-Pakistan collaboration is necessary to build “this critical capacity”. The proposed organisation will give significance to information dominance and attempt to quash “engineered misperceptions”, the document adds.

In recent months, Pakistan’s powerful military has taken several steps to browbeat and silence its critics in the media. Popular TV anchor Hamid Mir was taken off the air by Geo News, one of Pakistan’s most-watched channels, after he threatened to divulge details of the alleged shooting of a senior military official by his wife during a protest in Islamabad on May 29 against the assault of a Pakistani reporter by intelligence operatives.

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