Media Cooperation along the "Belt and Road"
By Cai Shangwei and Che Nanlin
Abstract: The “Belt and Road” Initiative is being implemented smoothly in China and related countries. Media cooperation of countries along the “Belt and Road”, as a part of the Initiative, plays an important role for presenting the real images of partner countries of the “Belt and Road”, fostering a sound social atmosphere, promoting media cooperation of developed and less developed regions, developing unique media industries of related countries, and increasing incomes from the cultural industry. However, as media have special meanings for different countries, the differences in ideology and culture and media systems and policies of “Belt and Road” countries pose certain challenges for media cooperation. Therefore, the article offers some thoughts on these challenges and proposes related suggestions, in the hope of facilitating smooth media cooperation of related countries.
Key words: The “Belt and Road”, media cooperation, big data, cultural industry, action plan.
In order to promote the implementation of the “Belt and Road” Initiative,
the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of China jointly issued the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road(hereinafter referred to as the “Vision and Actions”) in March, 2015. The Vision and Actions mentioned that the cooperation priorities of countries along the “Belt and Road” are policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds. On the front of promoting people-to-people bonds, the Vision and Actions stressed that “we should promote extensive cultural and academic exchanges, personnel exchanges and cooperation, media cooperation, youth and women exchanges and volunteer services, so as to win public support for deepening bilateral and multilateral cooperation”. This shows the importance of media cooperation for deepening cooperation of countries along the routes.
I. Significance of media cooperation in the building of the “Belt and Road”.
1. Presenting the real images of countries along the “Belt and Road”, fostering a sound social atmosphere, and contributing to political and economic development of related countries.
The “Belt and Road” goes through countries in Central Asia, West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. Among these countries, those from the CEE region enjoy relatively developed economies, strong capability in international publicity, and good images in the world, while the remaining ones include both the emerging economies as defined by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and least developed countries. Some emerging economies and less developed countries have under-developed economies, and moreover, their international publicity capability of the media also lags behind. Coupled with political, cultural and religious reasons, over a long period of time, the images of these countries have been deliberately distorted by media of certain countries. For example, at the first “China-Arab States Press Cooperation Forum” held in April, 2008, many speakers including the Minister of Information of Lebanon, Director General of the Department of News and Information of the Ministry of Information of Kuwait, and editor-in-chief of The Public of Syriamentioned in their presentations that a lot of media in western countries are distorting the images of China and Arab states, as demonstrated by their unfair and biased reports on China’s Olympic Games and Tibet, and on issues of Palestine and Darfur of Sudan . Even on China, the media of developed countries have been fostering an international image about it with strong negative implications . Give such a situation, only through strengthened media cooperation by countries along the “Belt and Road” can we pass on information of our related countries in a timely and accurate way, convey the true voices and present the true images of our countries.
Moreover, the “Belt and Road” goes through countries that are different in ideology, culture and social environment, and in different levels of economic and institutional development, leading to their different understanding of the “Belt and Road”. Some people even view the “Belt and Road” as “China’s Marshal Plan”, “threat posed by China” or “China looting energy of related countries”, and call for counter measures against the Initiative. The “Belt and Road” is not China’s internal strategy, but a plan for regional economic development that benefits 4.4 billion people of over 60 countries. Therefore, through media cooperation including information sharing, exchange of papers and articles, interactions of media organizations, training and exchange of media professionals, and joint media development, countries along the routes can explain the core thinking and goals of the “Belt and Road” in a timely, comprehensive and accurate way, thus fostering a social atmosphere for in-depth cooperation by countries along the routes in infrastructure, energy, trade, investment, emerging industries, finance, tourism, investment, culture and education, promoting common political, economic, social and cultural development of these countries, and ultimately building a community of shared future.
2. Promoting cooperation of “Belt and Road” regions with developed media and less developed media for common development and win-win progress.
In comparison with the media of the US, Japan and the UK which occupy important positions in the world, media of countries along the “Belt and Road” are at a weaker position as a whole. Some regions are less developed economically, and find it more difficult to allocate needed financial resources for media development. For example, Kirgizstan, a country with a GDP of only around US$7 billion, is one of the poorest countries in the world, cannot go for media growth given its less developed economy. There is only one national or state-owned TV station, one public TV station, and 15 commercial TV stations or independent media organizations in the country. Whether in terms of economic status or political influence, media in Kirgizstan are poor  and underdeveloped. Even for some countries with better economies, the development of the media is also lagging behind. For example, in Turkey, a country with a GDP of close to US$800 billion, there were about 2459 newspapers around the year 2009, including 5 national ones, 23 religious ones, and 2381 local ones. The ownership of newspapers is about 59 per thousand people, which is still a low figure in the world . Moreover, broadcasting, TV and new media are also less developed in the country.
There are also countries with relatively advanced economies along the “Belt and Road”, which are able to put the needed manpower, capital and resources into media and thus have comparatively advanced media development. For example, Qatar, the richest country in the world, uses the wealth gained from sales of crude oil on media development. Qatar’s newspapers such as The Flag, Gulf Times, Doha Week, TV stations such as Al Jazeera, and websites such as Al Jazeera Online, Gulf Times Online and Qatar Maydan are well known in the world. Al Jazeera has 30 stations or offices in different parts of the world, 70 land and satellite channels, renowned as one of the top three 24-hour news channels together with the CNN of the US and BBC of the UK . Some people are even joking that “when the world is watching the CNN, the CNN is watching Al Jazeera”. The website of Qatar Maydan established by Qatar News Agency on April 30th, 2014, claims to be the first socialized news website in the world . Apart from Qatar, Russia, with a GDP close to US$2 trillion, also has relatively advanced media. Russia has ITAR-TASS, renowned as one of the five news agencies in the world; the Red Star, one of the most authoritative military newspapers in the world; and strong TV channels such as Chanel 1, TV Chanel 3, HTB, PTP, Peh－TB, Central TV, Cultural TV, CTC, THT, Russia Channel 1, Russia Channel 24, Daily Life Channel, and RT. Websites and new media are also highly developed in Russia, enjoying great influence in the world. In developed CEE countries, the media are relatively advanced. Even in Serbia, a country with merely 7.2 million people and a per capita GDP of US$6000, the media are well developed. The statistics of 2011 showed that there were 321 registered radio stations, 610 printed media, 134 TV stations and a large number of internet media. As a matter of fact, in comparison with other CEE countries, Serbia enjoys a leading position in terms of the per capita ownership of media .
Therefore, we can see that among the countries along the “Belt and Road”, there are both media that are less developed and have minimal influence in the world, and those relatively developed with great influence in the world. Through cooperation of developed and less developed media organizations, the experience, editing, compiling and broadcasting technologies, and advanced equipments can be transferred from the formal to the latter, thus helping to raise the professional competence of the latter, improve their technologies, and better the quality of their reports and production, thus able to convey the voices of their own countries, present their images, and ultimately promote common political, economic, cultural and social development and the growth of the media of the countries along the routes.
3. Developing distinctive media industries of countries along the “Belt and Road” to increase incomes from the cultural industry.
The media industries of countries along the “Belt and Road” have their distinctive features. For example, Al Jazeera of Qatar does not rely on advertisements for incomes, but has developed a series of media industries focusing on the TV, with the famous one being the International Documental Film Festival centering around Al Jazeera. The festival is bonded together with documentaries, and is held in Doha from April 23rdto 26thevery year. While boosting the influence of Al Jazeera, the festival has also facilitated the procurement of the broadcasting right of high-quality documentaries by the documental channel of Al Jazeera . Although the media industries of Qatar face some doubts in their profit making capability, their reputation in the world has not been affected. Qatar has been highly commended by the documental community for its free and inclusive ideas, and has attracted excellent documentaries and talents of the sector from around the world.
Different from the documentary industry in Qatar, India pays more attention to the development of the media and entertainment industry. From 2008 to 2014, the media and entertainment industry in India presented an upward trend, among which the TV industry experienced the biggest growth, up from 24.1 billion rupees in 2008 to 47.49 billion rupees in 2014. The sector that grew the fastest in 2014 was digital advertisement, up by 44.5% than that of 2013. India also predicts the growth of the TV sector to 97.55 billon rupees in 2019, printing to 38.68 billion rupees, and digital advertisement to 16.25 billion rupees. Moreover, India has also taken measures such as policy support, financial subsidy and tax reduction to support the media and entertainment industry, aiming at overtaking China in 2016.
Countries from Central and Eastern Europe, West Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa also have their unique media industries. Through strengthening media cooperation of countries along the “Belt and Road”, related countries can complement each other. While continuing to develop their advantageous and distinctive media industries, they can create job opportunities and bring about the development of related industries, thus increasing the incomes from the cultural industry.
II. Foundation for media cooperation along the “Belt and Road”.
1. Related declarations, agreements and MoUs have provided the basic guarantee for media cooperation.
All the countries along the “Belt and Road” have signed at different times declarations, agreements and MoUs, providing the basic guarantee for media cooperation. China has signed joint declarations, agreements, plans or MoUs with most countries along the “Belt and Road”, which is helpful to cooperation between Chinese media and media of other countries. For example, China and Kazakhstan signed theJoint Declaration between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Kazakhstanin May, 2014, which stated that “the two sides agreed to further strengthen their exchange of visits and mutually beneficial cooperation between their government departments on culture, education, information, publication, radio, film and television, tourism, health, and sports, launch projects on radio, film and TV exchanges on the Silk Road. China invites Kazakhstan to send delegations or movie products to attend the “Silk Road Film Festival”. China and Russia have also signed related agreements. During the state visit of Russian President Putin to China on June 5thand 6th, 2012, the two sides signed a series of important cooperation agreements between governments and between businesses, covering the area of media cooperation . After this, the two sides have carried out active cooperation in film, TV, documentaries and new media. In order to strengthen their cooperation in new media, China’s CNTV and Russia’s SPBTV signed an agreement on cooperation of new media in June, 2015, which is by far the biggest new media cooperation between the mainstream media of the two countries. China has also signed MoUs on media cooperation with ASEAN countries. At the China-ASEAN Meeting of Ministers of Information held in October, 2008, the two sides signed a MoU on Information and Media Cooperation between China and ASEAN Countries, planning for their information cooperation and making concrete arrangement for their cooperation in areas of human resource development, media exchanges and joint production of programmes, and China-ASEAN information and media network, which has laid a solid foundation for China and ASEAN countries to further strengthen cooperation in the area of information and media .Therefore, the related declarations, agreements and MoUs signed between China and other “Belt and Road” countries have provided the basic guarantee for the two sides carry out in-depth media cooperation.
2. Close business and tourist exchanges and growing people-to-people ties have provided a broad scope for media cooperation.
Through international railway connections such as the Eurasian continental bridge and China-Europe railway line, international air links, roads, ports and other transportation hubs along the “Belt and Road”, countries along the routes have developed mature business and tourist exchanges. In terms of economy and trade, statistics show that from 1990 to 2013, global trade and trans-border direct investment registered an average annual growth of 7.8% and 9.7%, while those of the 65 countries along the “Belt and Road” were 13.1% and 16.5% respectively. In 2013, trade between China and countries along the “Belt and Road” exceeded US$1 trillion, accounting for 1/4 of China’s total foreign trade. Over the past ten years, trade between China and countries along the “Belt and Road” grew by 19% annually, 4 percentage points higher than that of the global trade in the same period . On the front of tourism, there have been growing tourist exchanges between countries along the “Belt and Road”. For example, in 2015, with the improvement of transportation conditions and social situations, there was an obvious increase of the number of tourists between countries along the routes. From January to July, 2015, the number of tourists traveling to Indonesia reached 547,000, up by 2.69% than the same period of last, of which the number of Chinese tourists grew the fastest by 20% . Whether between the 64 countries or between China and other countries along the “Belt and Road”, the growing economic and tourist exchanges will bring about a huge personnel flow. When travelling overseas, these people need to learn about political, economic and tourist information of the destination countries, as well as the related information of their home countries. This will form a broad scope for media cooperation.
3. Existing successful cases have provided good experience for media cooperation of related countries.
There have been successful cases of media cooperation among countries along the “Belt and Road”. For example, Qatar TV established a cooperative relationship for sharing information resources with foreign news agencies including China’s Xinhua News Agency as early as the 1990s. Bangladesh News Agency exchanged news with the Press Trust of India via microwaves and overhead cables, strengthening their cooperation. The STAR TV of Australia opened seven channels in India long time ago including the news channel, entertainment channel, English film channel, Hindi film channel, music channel, TV series channel and national geographic channel . In addition, there are also a lot of successful cases of broadcasting and TV cooperation between China and ASEAN countries. For example, since China proposed the establishment of China-ASEAN FTA in early 21stcentury, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have all opened up the channels, columns or programmes in the Chinese mandarin language. Through bilateral cooperation, China’s TV programmes have entered in a large number the markets of Southeast Asian countries. In 2004, Yunnan TV and Guangxi TV set up TV programmes of “Look at ASEAN” and “Connection with ASEAN” respectively. In 2010, Guangxi set up an international channel specifically on ASEAN . Up till now, Guangxi Radio has established a Southeast Asia Multimedia Translation, Production and Publicity Center including production of film and TV series, book translation, audio programmes production, issuance of bilingual magazines, and development of tourism products, which will cooperate with Southeast Asian countries to open up the programme of “China Theater”, with the purpose of promoting international publicity by enlarging the scale through market operation . We can see that since Yunnan and Guangxi are close to Southeast Asian countries geographically with similar cultures and convenient transportation connections, their media cooperation is relatively frequent (some of the projects are shown in the table below). The successful experience of media cooperation between countries along the “Belt and Road” will promote diversified expansion and offer new opportunities for cooperation among media of related countries.
Table 2: Media cooperation between Yuannan, Guangxi and China’s Southeast Asian neighbours.
4. New tools such as big data, cloud technology and algorithm have provided technological support for media cooperation of related countries.
With the updating of computer technologies, phrases such as big data, cloud technology and algorithm have been gradually known, and these technologies and tools themselves have been increasingly applied in various sectors and industries. For the work of the media, big data is well known for its 4Vs – volume, variety, value and velocity; cloud technology is famous for its probability, diffuseness and simultaneousness; and algorithm has the feature of finiteness, definitenessand effectiveness. On the one hand, they can help two cooperative parties to find more popular topics, preferences of different groups of people and their needs for cultural consumption in the markets of different countries, and to identify ways and contents for innovating media cooperation, valuable experience and operational cultural products based on the market need. On the other hand, they can help the two cooperative parties to analyze potential policy and technological risks, thus to avoid these risks more accurately and timely. It is just with the technological support of big data, cloud technology and algorithm that enables media to transcend time and space to carry out multi-tiered cooperation.
III. Challenges against media cooperation along the “Belt and Road”
1. Differences in ideology, language and culture might hinder media cooperation.
Different from the TPP and TTIP strategies promoted by the US, under which countries are highly similar in the stages of economic development, cultural directions and ideologies, countries along the “Belt and Road” are located in areas of civilizational conflict, including various conflicts in religion as well as marked difference in ideology. Southeast Asia alone is one of the most complex regions in the world. The difference in ideology is not only seen in countries along the routes, but also obvious between China and other countries along the routes. We can even see exclusiveness here. Difference in ideology not only makes it more difficult for the two sides to cooperate politically, but also leads to unfair views on media of different countries. Moreover, different from economic and tourist cooperation, media cooperation always relies on languages and words, but countries along the “Belt and Road” differ a lot in languages, characters and cultures. On language, India alone has 16 official languages and more than 400 commonly used languages. As for culture, countries along the routes are quite different in religion and culture, tradition and custom, way of behavior, and value. These differences raise a high demand on professionals for public relations, management and post-production technology, which are important for media cooperation, thus somewhat affecting media cooperation and its process.
2. Economic underdevelopment and social instability obstructs media cooperation.
A study of GDP statistics released by the World Bank shows that countries along the “Belt and Road” include countries in Central and Eastern Europe, countries depending on crude oil export, and less developed economies. In 2014, Bhutan had a GDP of US$1.821 billion and per capita GDP of US$2380.9, Kirgizstan had a GDP of US$7.404 billion and per capita GDP of US$1114; Tajikistan had a GDP of US$9.242 billion and per capita GDP of US$1280; Cambodia had a GDP of US$16.708 billion and per capita GDP of US$1090.1, and Timor-Leste had a GDP of US$1.552 billion and per capita GDP of US$1280.4. In addition, countries such as Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt are also less developed economically. Economic underdevelopment affects the financial resources allocated into media, leading to underdevelopment of the media sector. On top of that, some countries along the “Belt and Road” such as Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Kuwait suffer from social problems including wars, drugs and three evil forces, which to some extent also affects the development of the media sector, thus obstructing the development of media cooperation of related countries.
3. Different media systems, policies and laws of various countries restrict media cooperation.
Media control differs in countries along the “Belt and Road” due to their marked differences in political system, religion and history, leading to different media systems. There are countries whose media are completely under the control of the government such as Iran, whose Constitution released in 1979 provides that all radios can only be operated by the government. That is why there is no private radio in Iran, and the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) is the only broadcasting company . There are also countries that have both public and private media such as Sri Lanka. Moreover, some media are controlled by political parties and some by religious groups. Some completely depend on government subsidies and some totally rely on market for incomes. Some enjoy greater press freedom and some notorious for least press freedom. In terms of government policies, some countries keep changing their policies towards the media. For example, in India, its first Prime Minister Nehru prohibited the entry of foreign newspapers into India in 1955, and this policy has not changed at all until today. The Chinese Ministry of News and Broadcasting still announced the prohibition of the publication of foreign newspapers in China on April 27, 1994. However, in face of a fast-growing economy, an open cultural market and people’s new demand for cultural lives, the Chinese government announced in June 2002 that newspapers are allowed to open up to 26% of their shares to foreign investment . In recent years, the media and entertainment industry has been growing very fast in India, but the government still has an extremely strict control over the media. For example, the entertainment TV channels in India are not allowed to broadcast news or political events, otherwise they will be deemed as news channels. Countries also differ in the laws applied. For instance, Vietnam released the Law on Newsin 1989, regulating the running and mandate of media organizations. TheLaw on Investment of Malaysia prohibits the entry of foreign investment into radio and TV. The different systems, policies and laws will affect the content of media cooperation.
4. Differences in professionals, technologies and management among media of different countries hampers their in-depth cooperation.
As mentioned before, many countries along the “Belt and Road” are less developed economies, which cannot allocate sufficient budgets for media development, leading to their shortage of professionals and backwardness in technology and management. For example, in Kirgizstan, the underdevelopment of its media results in low salaries of journalists, causing the unwillingness of its people to go for media work. Apart from shortage of professionals by some media organizations, media workers grow up in different societies with different cultures and ideologies, thus having sharp differences in their mindsets for cooperation, making it difficult to deepen such cooperation. In terms of technology, some countries started media growth quite late, and lag far behind others in technology. Let us take Georgia as an example. Georgia broadcasted programmes via satellite for the first time in 1999, which suffer from disruption from time to time . In recent years, the media technologies in Georgia have progressed, but very slowly due to the poor economy of the country as a whole. As for management, different countries have different systems, thus resulting in different management over the media. For example, Article 175 of the Constitution of Iran provides that the freedom of expression and broadcasting of the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be consistent with the standards of Islam and interests of the country. The appointment and dismissal of the leader of the Radio and Television of the Islamic Republic of Iran needs the approval of the head of the state in the country . This is merely the difference of media management by the governments. The management within the media sector in every country and internal management of each media entity also differs. Therefore, differences in professionals, technologies and management among media of different countries along the “Belt and Road” hamper their in-depth cooperation.
The “Belt and Road” is an initiative China has proposed in response to the fast changes of the global situation by coordinating domestic and international environments. It is the need for China’s efforts to promote all-dimensional opening up, and an important strategic move China has taken to benefit countries along the routes. Publicity by media of countries along the “Belt and Road” plays a critical role for smooth implementation of the Initiative. At the same time, cooperation of media organizations of countries along the routes will not only promote their own development, but also facilitate economic, political, cultural and social progress of related countries, thus fostering a community of shared future. Therefore, it is necessary for the Chinese media to get actively involved in such an endeavor. China needs to formulate concrete and feasible policies for media cooperation along the “Belt and Road”; work out an Action Plan on Media Cooperation along the “Belt and Road” based on the study of media development of different countries; deepen existing cooperation, promote brands, and carry out fresh cooperation with other countries in batches and in stages; and facilitate multi-tiered and cross-sector cooperation between Chinese businesses with media organizations of other countries; and draw up a Plan on Talent Development for Silk Road Media Cooperation, and develop a strong talent pool of media professionals.
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