In one corner of the bustling, glassy newsroom, a giant central desk is surrounded by a phalanx of screens carrying CNN, Fox, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, and CCTV's other news channels. Seen together, CCTV's broadcast looked buttoned-up and serious next to CNN's unceasing parade of graphics and heavy emphasis on pop culture. (And yet CCTV America surprised The Atlantic's national correspondent Jim Fallows, who spent three years living in China and estimated he's watched "thousands" of hours of CCTV, as he channel surfed. Compared with CNN, "I've generally heard a lot more, and in a lot more detail and less tendentiously and cutesily, from, gasp, CCTV America," he wrote on his blog in April.)
Currently, the bureau produces seven hours of English-language content per week split across three shows, but plans to grow to over 20 hours by next spring, and to add over a dozen more producers and correspondents. "The mentality is expand, expand, expand" said Dury. Half of the service's new coverage will emphasize business, Laurie said, "because the Chinese believe that the business of China is business."
Thanks to government investment and growing revenues from big advertisers in China like Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola, CCTV's own business is booming. The network now boasts international channels in five languages and claims a total global audience of about 125 million. In January, the company opened a studio in Nairobi, Kenya, and has plans to increase the size of its overseas staff dramatically by 2016. New production centers in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East are scheduled to open by the end of 2015. The eventual idea, Makori explained, is to rely on a continuous flow of reports from outposts around the world, "a global 24-hour news operation -- we come to America during its relevant hours, go to Kenya, and China."
Beyond CCTV, China's news media reach now extends from mobile phones in Nairobi to newsstands in London to the radio dial in Boston, where WILD-AM, formerly home to the city's "home for classic soul and R&B," now hosts the state-owned broadcaster China Radio International. Cut-rate prices on syndicated articles and news footage have made Chinese outlets a popular source for media organizations in developing nations. CCTV has also formed partnerships with Western media organizations, inking syndication deals with Reuters, the Associated Press, and NBC.
Even as China deals with a decline in exports and a softening economy, the global economic tumult has also given Beijing a new opening to lucrative resource-for-development deals in Africa and Latin America, and boosted its confidence in promoting a "China model" of development. The same holds true in the media industry. With budgets shrinking and bureaus shutting among major news outlets, the tumult has left room for new entrants. CCTV America claims to have more television correspondents in Africa and Latin America than either Al Jazeera, CNN, or the BBC, and is one of the only major services to boast of a bureau in Havana (one October story by former BBC correspondent Michael Voss even examined Cuba's "democratically questionable" upcoming elections). "Global TV news competition has only gotten stiffer over the past 10 years," says Dave Marash, Al Jazeera English's first American anchor, and an ABC veteran. "It's broken the mold of Western dominance of news media, and who gets to define 'current affairs.'"
The rise of state-funded English-language television outlets from places like France, Iran, and Russia has made the State Department anxious, and led a frustrated Hillary Clinton in March of 2011 to praise Al Jazeera for its "real news around the clock instead of a million commercials," while lamenting the de-funding of Voice of America. "CCTV already has a tremendous influence on Africa and certain parts of the Middle East, too," says media scholar Ying Zhu and author of Two Billion Eyes, a book-length investigation of the network published in October 2012. "It's building its empire in regions where Western media are having trouble."
In 2011, two years after President Hu Jintao announced a $7 billion plan for China to "go out" into the world, a shake-up at CCTV landed Hu Zhanfan at the top of the media empire's hierarchy. The former editor of Beijing-based intellectual newspaper Guangming Daily, CCTV head Hu had cautioned journalists against placing the truth above Party loyalty, reminding them that news must always reflect "our party and country's political stance."
Even as reforms meant to loosen state control over the media industry began in 2009, CCTV was not among the companies chosen for reorganization. Right now, weeks away from a once-in-a-decade leadership transition on Nov. 15, thinking outside of the box is not encouraged, said political scientist Joseph Nye. "There are some people in the system who clearly get it. But right now is not the time to stick their heads above the fox hole."