By Nicolás Promanzio
The report by the U.S. Freedom House classified Argentina as “subjected” and “vulnerable” to the “high” media influence of the Chinese communist regime.
In a shocking report published by the prestigious organization Freedom House, Argentina was classified as “vulnerable” to the media influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and its effort to infiltrate the Argentine media was classified as “high”.
In addition, Argentina’s response capacity was named as “incapable”, and the enormous influence that the CCP already has in the main media in Argentina was noted.
Among them Perfil, Ambito Financiero, Pagina 12, BAE Negocios, Clarín, El Economista, El Cronista, and Télam.
According to this report, Argentina is one of the countries most controlled by China, with a score of 41/85, which, although it may seem low on this scale, places the country among the most influenced countries in the world.
At the same time, the “resilience” to counteract this influence is rated as “low”, with 31/85 points.
It also has one of the lowest numbers of all the countries analyzed.
KEY FINDINGS OF THE REPORT
The report highlights that Beijing seems to have steadily increased its influence on Argentine media in recent years, renewing “cooperation agreements” between Chinese state-owned media and the most important Argentine media, both public and private.
Cooperation between these media “goes back decades and takes place through high-level channels”.
There are multiple agreements in place between the Xinhua news agency, Argentine government media sectors, publicly funded media, and major private media outlets.
In terms of Argentina’s vulnerabilities, the report highlights that concentrated media ownership and lack of sufficient regulation to ensure transparency and accountability have harmed the development of sustainable and independent media, such as La Derecha Diario.
Low journalistic expertise on China and the CCP’s continued efforts to co-opt influential political and academic voices have created vulnerabilities to Chinese media influence.
The Chinese Embassy in Argentina maintains close ties with various media groups, academics, political leaders, and influential individuals, having published dozens of bylined articles and conducted media briefings to disseminate the CCP’s preferred narratives.
The “agreements and resulting content span the political spectrum,” the report cites, indicating that both Kirchnerist and opposition media have promulgated the communist narrative.
THE ARGENTINE POLITICAL SITUATION CREATES VULNERABILITIES
However, the report emphasizes the penetration of Chinese propaganda into the Justicialist Party (the largest branch within Peronism) and asserts that the result of this has been the promotion of stronger bilateral relations, which in the past were limited to a commercial relationship but now extend to a political dependency.
“Argentine diplomats regularly praised China’s achievements in green development, economic growth, and poverty alleviation. While Chinese diplomats promoted narratives of international solidarity against foreign interference in domestic affairs and supported Argentina’s claims to the Malvinas Islands,” the report asserts.
Since the deepening of diplomatic relations between Argentina and the People’s Republic of China during Cristina Kirchner’s administration (2007-2015), the CCP has actively worked to increase its influence in the country.
In 2014, both countries upgraded the bilateral relationship to the level of comprehensive strategic partnership, and Argentina received from 2005 to date close to US$17 billion in Chinese state funds.
In addition, Chinese companies have announced investment projects in Argentina’s mining, infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy sectors, all critical sectors.
Currently, the Chinese expatriate population in Argentina is around 200,000, making it the fourth largest migrant group in the country.
The diaspora has its own media with Chinese content, and the “pro-Beijing” editorial lines dominate.
There is also a significant Taiwanese population in Argentina, and Taiwan maintains a strong diplomatic presence in the country through the Taipei Commercial and Cultural Office in Argentina.
In addition, there are pro-Taiwanese anti-communist media outlets such as Bles.com, but the strong Chinese influence in the mainstream overshadows them.
BEIJING’S MEDIA INFLUENCE EFFORTS
Through strong propaganda campaigns coordinated by its Embassy, China has solicited academic articles, established relationships with local businessmen and officials, and coordinated with local publishers to translate and publish six books on Marxism and Chinese Communist Party philosophy in Spanish, targeting the Argentine public.
On the other hand, “Chinese diplomats in Argentina largely avoided combative messages against their enemies as they do in other parts of the world and, instead, stuck mainly to positive messages promoting China as a strong partner for development and multilateral cooperation.”
An example of this modus operandi was the media campaign about China’s supposed victory over extreme poverty as an example of Argentina to solve its problem with endemic poverty by applying its same economic recipes.
These narratives drove Chinese public diplomacy efforts to shore up support for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an international agreement promoted by China to hand out loans at derisory rates but destined for countries that cannot pay, to default but keep key infrastructure in moratoriums.
Argentina formally joined the BRI in February 2022, becoming the largest Latin American economy to do so.
WHICH MEDIA ARE INFLUENCED BY CHINA, ACCORDING TO FREEDOM HOUSE
According to a survey conducted by Freedom House, the number of bylined articles and interviews published by diplomats from China in media outlets such as Perfil, Ámbito Financiero, Pagina 12, BAE Negocios, Clarín, El Economista, El Cronista, and Télam doubled from 2019 to 2020 and tripled between 2020 and 2021.
Those stories promoted the Communist Party narrative, touching on issues related to bilateral cooperation, the importance of China’s leadership in the world, and attacking “foreign” critical perspectives on Hong Kong repression and “Chinese-style” human rights.
Grupo America, Argentina’s second-largest media conglomerate, is most prominent in the report, which has close ties to Chinese state media.
Grupo America’s founder and businessman, Jose Luis Manzano, has played an active role in regional media cooperation forums organized by Chinese state media entities, where he has been described as a “friend of Beijing.”
Several of its publications, including Rosario-based La Capital and the popular financial daily El Cronista, have since 2016 published “China Watch” supplements, replicated from their original China Daily versions.
In addition to Grupo América, executives from leading media groups Grupo Clarín, Grupo Indalo, Grupo Perfil, and Grupo Octubre also met with the Chinese Embassy and expressed their interest in deepening cooperation with Chinese state-owned media during the coverage period.
Grupo Octubre signed a cooperation agreement with China Global Television Network (CGTN) in January 2021.
Such cooperation agreements may have a notable effect on China-related news coverage. For example, Embassy content dominates Clarín’s China coverage and can be difficult to distinguish from regular news reports.
Many other collaborations with the Chinese Communist Party can be found involving A24, Santiago Cafiero, and Grupo Indalo to promote an official cooperation agenda between China and the Argentine Foreign Ministry.
As for official media, Xinhua’s state-owned press agency has a branch office in Buenos Aires.
Chinese state media content is available in Argentina through the People’s Daily, the Spanish version of the People’s Daily, which has information directly from the spokesperson of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and replicates information from Xinhua, China Radio International (CRI), China Global Television Network (CGTN) and China Today magazine.
The Kirchnerist government signed in 2015 an agreement with what was then the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Cinema of China (now the State Administration of Radio and Television).
In addition, Xinhua also signed a separate cooperation agreement with the Argentine Senate to promote cultural exchange in state media, and in 2015, the People’s Daily signed a cooperation agreement with the Argentine daily La Nación.
In addition, there are cases of media cooperation out of ideological sympathy between the Argentine left and the CCP.
For example, the Buenos Aires Press Workers Union (UTPBA) is a member of the Belt and Road Journalists Network (BRJN), and its general secretary Lidia Fagale hosts the weekly radio program Clave China, which broadcasts direct Communist Party content on Radio Cooperativa La 770, a marginal left-wing radio station.
On the political front, the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, which is responsible for building ties between the CCP and political parties around the world, has developed close ties with both the ruling Justicialist Party and the supposedly center-right Republican Proposal (PRO) party.
As an aside: it does not make merit to quote the statements of Sabino Vaca Narvaja, Argentine Ambassador to China, and Alberto Fernandez, who go out of their way to rave about the CCP every time they are asked, statements tied to their desperation to get funding from China.
As for censorship: “There were no reported cases of the Chinese embassy or other agents linked to the Chinese state attempting to censor journalists in Argentina during the coverage period.”
“However, several public and private media outlets have close ties to Chinese state actors, which encourages journalists working in these outlets to self-censor to maintain their access to professional benefits as well as favorable relationships with the embassy and their counterparts in Chinese state media,” the report explained.
ARGENTINA’S RESILIENCE AND RESPONSE
The report highlights that Argentine law guarantees freedom of expression, and the country decriminalized defamation and libel in 2009, which put a significant brake on China’s power in the country.
In addition, the Audiovisual Communication Services Law prohibits more than 30% foreign investment in broadcasting companies, as well as the National Communications Entity (ENACOM) and the Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), which functions as an independent watchdog of press freedoms.
As for specific resilience in China, there is more news development in the Asian country than in the rest of Latin America, but research topics are related to economics or business, and “experts have argued that the country still needs to develop a more diverse range of knowledge on China, including Chinese domestic politics and the CCP’s foreign influence”.
For the moment, independent media outlets have been able to critically cover Chinese investments and activities in Argentina without any noticeable censorship, although there is no doubt that the reach of these newspapers is less than those influenced by the Chinese Communist Party.
Some activists and civil society groups have tried to raise awareness about the influence of the CCP media and expressed concern about the potentially corrupting risks of the current government’s close ties with Beijing.
Among them, The Epoch Times and the aforementioned Bles, founded by practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in China, maintain a branch office in Buenos Aires and publish critical reports on the CCP, its human rights abuses, and transnational repression.
While the Argentine system is resilient, it is highly vulnerable, according to the report. Argentina’s media ecosystem is characterized by the concentration of large media conglomerates that often favor political groupings.
Argentina lacks effective regulations governing cross-media ownership, and state advertising dominate the overall advertising market, distributed disproportionately and without transparency.
Research shows that Beijing has prioritized developing relationships with local commentators who provide support and legitimacy to the Communist Party’s influence efforts.
Many journalists and academics appear to avoid sensitive topics such as those related to China’s “internal affairs” to maintain their access to funding and research opportunities.
Senior government officials have demonstrated a disturbing tendency to pander to Beijing.
Since his controversial ascension to the post of ambassador to China in 2021, Sabino Vaca Narvaja has been criticized for his strong praise of the CCP and his alleged lobbying for Chinese business interests.
The report sets out several key areas to watch in relation to Beijing’s media influence in the coming years in Argentina, citing examples that it recommends “following closely.”
Expanding media cooperation through content sharing, co-production, or regional agreements: it cites the Clarín case and its partnership with China Media Group as an example.
Expanding reach and influence on social networks: The increased use of Twitter and Facebook by Chinese state media and diplomats has grown their local audience.
In the future, researchers should also track how local media use propaganda from CCP-affiliated accounts as news sources.
Growth of non-state actors in influencer operations: In other countries, the CCP has leveraged covert ties with ‘influencers’ to present a softer perspective of the communist dictatorship, which is developing in Argentina and needs to be tracked.
Closer coordination with other authoritarian media entities: Recent years have seen a growing narrative alignment between state media entities in authoritarian countries such as China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela that has included the replication and sharing of disinformation and parallel propaganda efforts to further anti-Western narratives.
Download the report here.
With information from Derecha Diario