Tuesday, January 28, 2014

China's Soft Power in the Middle East

Joseph Braude

China’s Arabic-language television and radio outreach efforts don’t compare to America’s in traditional measures like audience size. But sometimes how many people are tuning in isn’t as important as who is tuning in.

Published on January 20, 2014
Ratings matter to commercial radio and television because the size of the audience determines the price of sponsors’ airtime. But should they also matter to government-backed foreign broadcasts, which do not sell ads? In Washington, the Arabic-language television network Alhurra and its sister radio channel, Sawa, receive funding from the U.S. Congress to present America to the Arab world. They publish an annual performance review that quantifies success largely in terms of “audience weekly reach,” now estimated at 35.5 million. Their data comes from corporate research by the Gallup Organization and analysis from firms such as Nielsen, which tracks everything from Sunday Night Football viewership to how many Americans play video games.

These survey companies would presumably be unimpressed, for example, by government-backed offerings out of Beijing like the 45-minute documentary about the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, which aired late last year on the Arabic service of Chinese Radio International. Perhaps a mere 5,000 listeners tuned in online via the CRI Web site, alongside however many shortwave radio enthusiasts who picked up the aerial signal from its source in Albania. The program featured a synthesized keyboard soundtrack, a lean script, interviews with Chinese language teachers in two Arab countries, and musical interludes by a Beijing rapper (whose lyrics were untranslated).

Additional story at The American Interest