White House Briefing Places Spotlight on Pro-Beijing Broadcaster Phoenix TV, and Its Dangerous Propaganda

April 23, 2020 Updated: April 26, 2020

Commentary

In February, the U.S. State Department announced that the Chinese regime’s main state-run news outlets will be placed under the Office of Foreign Missions designation. These outlets and their employees will be identified as agents of the Chinese state.

The media outlets are: Xinhua News Agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), the international arm of state-run broadcaster CCTV; China Radio International; China Daily Distribution Corp; and Hai Tian Development USA, which distributes the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) official mouthpiece.

Phoenix TV isn’t on the list.

A Phoenix TV reporter named Youyou Wang stated to President Donald Trump at a White House briefing by the CCP virus task force on April 6 that the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV is a private entity. When Trump questioned the reporter about her affiliation, the reporter three times denied working for China.

After the incident, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote in a tweet, “It’s bad enough that the mainstream media tries to censor conservative American outlets, but now it is actively providing a platform for Chinese state-run propaganda. Why does the Communist Party have a seat in the briefing room while @OANN is banned?”

Having Access to Both Sides

It’s common knowledge that Phoenix TV is private in name only.

A 2019 report by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, titled “China’s Influence & American Interests,” describes Phoenix TV as “quasi-official” with “links to the PRC’s Ministry of State Security” and “fully controlled by Chinese government.”

While Chinese state-run mouthpieces are now under tighter regulation outside China, the “quasi-official” media outlets, such as Phoenix TV, still enjoy access to markets both inside and outside China.

A Freedom House report pointed out that by August 2016, in the United States, China’s state-run CCTV News was available in 90.7 million cable-viewing households. Phoenix TV was available in 79.5 million households.

By contrast, have any Western media outlets been granted access to tens of millions of viewers in mainland China?

Phoenix TV is one of a handful of “foreign satellite TV” stations with landing rights in mainland China.

Phoenix TV, which was founded in 1996, is traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The biggest shareholder is founder and Chairman Liu Changle, who is said to have close ties to former CCP head Jiang Zemin and has a background as a Chinese military intelligence officer. The second-biggest shareholder is China Mobile, which is controlled by Jiang’s son.

Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings also owns Phoenix New Media, or ifeng.com, which is the online arm of the Phoenix conglomerate. Phoenix New Media is based in Beijing and traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It has branch offices in many cities around the globe.

‘Grand External Propaganda’

Because of its unique position, Phoenix TV and ifeng.com have been integral to the Chinese regime’s “Grand External Propaganda” campaign.

In October 2019, representatives from more than 400 pro-Beijing Chinese-language media in 61 countries attended the “Global Chinese Language Media Forum” in a city near Beijing. The theme was, how to better “tell the China story.”

A high-ranking Party official gave the opening speech, urging the “Chinese-language media to play an important role in presenting a prosperous, stable, and modern China to the world; and to contribute to establishing connections between China and the world.”

Two lists of pro-CCP Chinese language media operating outside of China were publicized in 2007 and 2019. Phoenix TV is on both lists and likely the largest one.

CCP Propaganda Exported and Then Imported

How is Beijing’s propaganda being carried out by Phoenix TV? We look again to another recent White House briefing incident.

As mentioned earlier, the Phoenix TV reporter, who lied about her affiliation with China on April 6, had another Q&A with Trump on March 20.

At the time, the Chinese regime was under increasing scrutiny for its mishandling of the CCP virus. Beijing intensified its disinformation campaign claiming that the virus originated in the United States. It was also around this time that Trump explained why he chose to call the virus the “Chinese virus,” to counter Beijing’s false narrative.

The Phoenix reporter was given a chance to ask a question at the CCP virus task force briefing. She started with a long statement on how China was working with the World Health Organization. Then she spoke about the United States’ decision to stop receiving flights from China.

She asked Trump why he said China didn’t notify the world earlier about the virus, and why he calls it the “Chinese virus.”

Trump responded by commenting on his good relationship with CCP leader Xi Jinping, and that he respects China. Then, he reiterated that the virus originated from China and that the outbreak there got out of control.

The next day, ifeng.com published a long report in Chinese, in which the Phoenix reporter Wang said that Trump was evasive in answering her question, and that his calling the virus the “Chinese virus” was to “divert attention and politicize the matter,” and that “it has already made the [overseas] Chinese community angry.”

The Chinese report also linked to a video consisting of short clips of Trump’s comments strung together, translating the clips into Chinese to show how “inconsistent” the U.S. president’s words were.

This way, ifeng.com utilized the press briefing moment as a tool to push CCP propaganda. To mainland Chinese readers, the report validated Beijing’s vilification of the United States.

One might ask, what did ifeng.com say about the Phoenix TV reporter denying her affiliation to China on April 6? The answer is, nothing so far.

Brief History of Phoenix TV Catering to Beijing

In early 2003, a whistleblower doctor contacted Phoenix TV, wanting to speak about the true situation of China’s SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak. The broadcaster didn’t respond.

In October 2005, a broadcast and engineering director for Phoenix TV’s North American cable TV division, Tai Wang Mak, was arrested for conspiring with his brother to act as an intelligence agent for China. When Mak was arrested, he was at the Los Angeles airport ready to board a plane headed to Hong Kong, carrying secret design documents that his brother stole from his American employer—about a new electric-drive submarine propulsion system. Mak was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 2008.

In 2012, Terence Shen, a former Phoenix TV employee in Hong Kong, revealed some internal documents via his YouTube channel. These documents, from 2012 to 2013, showed directives from the broadcaster’s higher-ups on how to cover the news.

One directive came from a “high ranking military official” regarding a scale surrounding China’s then-defense minister Liang Guanglie offering cash tips to Indian pilots during a visit to India: “Phoenix must not quote, report, nor comment on this matter,” the directive said.

In 2015 to 2016, five Hong Kong booksellers who published books critical of the Chinese regime’s top officials suddenly disappeared. They were later discovered to have been abducted and sent to the mainland for detention.

Phoenix TV aired videos of their forced confessions while they were being detained.

One of the booksellers, Li Bo, was forced to say that he wasn’t kidnapped but went to mainland China voluntarily to cooperate with the investigation, and that he’d promised not to sell such books anymore.

During Hong Kong’s mass protests in 2019, Phoenix TV consistently toed Beijing’s line in portraying the pro-democracy protesters as “violent rioters.”

Currently, most of the top headline news on the ifeng.com homepage is about Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Many news items are direct reprints from Xinhua, a Chinese state media outlet.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.