In a new report, titled “Beijing’s Global Media Influence: Authoritarian Expansion and the Power of Democratic Resilience,” Freedom House said the Chinese political party’s media influence efforts intensified in Sri Lanka during the period 2019- 21, The Island Online reported. .
Freedom House is a nonprofit organization primarily funded by USAID and the US Department of State.
Among the key findings of the report are increased influence efforts in a context of political change. The Chinese party-state’s media influence efforts intensified during the 2019-21 coverage period.
Pro-Beijing influencers have stepped up in the social media space – especially their outreach to young Sri Lankans – and new elite deals, including in the think tank space, have shaped conversations in the media.
The Rajapaksa family’s return to power in 2020 and protests toppling them in 2022 have increased restrictions on press freedom and attacks on journalists, The Island Online reported.
The high-level ties between the Sri Lankan and Chinese governments have led political and business leaders to repeat Chinese propaganda points, in national and international forums, including on the adoption of the Chinese governance model and the rights situation. rights in Xinjiang, reported The Island Online.
The state-run Daily News, the national business newspaper Daily FT, and some elite-run cultural organizations and think tanks have been consistent vehicles for Chinese state content and narratives.
Moreover, Chinese diplomats have adopted “wolf-warrior” tactics, regularly fending off criticism on social media platforms. Chinese diplomatic accounts in Sri Lanka have also been amplified by fake accounts.
Notably, China Radio International has content aimed at Sri Lankan audiences in the dominant local language Sinhalese on FM radio. It is also available in Sinhala and Tamil on social media, with over 1.4 million followers for one of the Sinhala accounts.
Since 2020 in particular, Facebook influencers affiliated with Chinese state media have increasingly pushed content targeting young adults in local languages, including Sinhalese, The Island Online reported.
These accounts have up to 1.2 million followers and promote content that highlights the positive and apolitical sides of China while occasionally showing pro-Chinese Communist Party content. Social media platforms struggled to label them as Chinese state-controlled sources.
The Chinese Embassy or other Chinese state-related actors pushed the Chinese Embassy or other Chinese state-related actors to apologize or remove content. Such incidents have contributed to some self-censorship among journalists.
Although there are laws improving ownership transparency and limiting foreign ownership, there are no laws against cross-ownership and partisan ownership, which puts the Sri Lankan media at risk of influence. undue politics, especially given the government’s close ties to China and the media’s tendency to have political affiliations.