Culture and Entertainment

Culture and Entertainment

Authoritarian-induced censorship permeates the art, film, television, professional sports, and video game industries in democratic settings.



Authoritarians recognize the powerful appeal that entertainment and cultural expression can generate, particularly in the digital era as new multimedia channels and social media formats enable the rapid dissemination of messages and can reshape perceptions among mass audiences. In the culture and entertainment industries—including the arts, film, television, sports, and video games—authoritarian powers have developed ever more sophisticated forms of cultural propaganda. Through a combination of traditional and digital mechanisms, they are also moving beyond censorship and propaganda to manipulate public expression through artistic and cultural mediums at their source.

Authoritarian regimes use multiple methods, including leverage of the private sector, to harness information resources within their borders and amplify their power beyond them. The economic clout of Beijing, in particular, allows it to exploit commercial and financial relationships to insist that foreign cultural institutions and entertainment firms comply with its censorship preferences. While overt censorship mechanisms are easier to observe, these efforts also induce an implicit understanding of taboo issues among the purveyors of culture, potentially resulting in self-censorship on a far wider basis that is more difficult to measure. 

Sharp Power Influence

In the realm of high culture, art galleries, museums, theaters, and cultural festival organizers have faced both financial and official government pressure not to host shows and exhibits featuring artists whose work offers an independent perspective that differs from the version of history or events preferred by an authoritarian regime.

The global film industry is becoming an instrument for authoritarian powers to advance their preferred narratives. Filmmakers in Hollywood and beyond are increasingly making decisions about their films—including the content, casting, plot, dialogue, and settings—based on an effort to avoid antagonizing officials who control whether their films gain market access. Both state and private Chinese media and internet firms have bought up studios, talent agencies, and top human resources to further establish their influence abroad. 

Authoritarian states also invest resources in international sports, both through sponsorship and broadcasting rights as well as ownership of professional sports teams and hosting major sporting events. This level of financial influence allows authoritarian actors to erase figures and issues they deem undesirable, including teams and individual players whose public remarks run afoul of political sensitivities. 

Sharp power also enters the video game space, where foreign companies have catered to authoritarian political priorities by censoring terms and phrases from online gaming forums, withdrawing prize money from players critical of the authorities, and altering game settings and characters. 

Autocrats are not agnostic about freedom of expression or association. The organizing principles of these systems require the control of speech and ideas and the elimination of independent groupings or power centers in society.

Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig

A Full-Spectrum Response to Sharp Power: The Strengths and Vulnerabilities of Open Societies

Democratic Responses

Cultural institutions and entertainment firms serve as important gatekeepers of expression and constitute a critical sector of civil society that can contribute to ensuring the vibrancy and authenticity of cultural expression within open societies.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Leaders in the entertainment industry that have historically championed free speech should make a commitment to resisting censorship from governments around the world that seek to sideline certain topics.
  • Authors should resist censorship that alters their arguments or distorts major historical and political events. 
  • Industry leaders must develop a set of best practices on how to respond to governmental requests to modify and censor content, and those practices should affirm and protect artistic freedom. 
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Journalists can help draw attention to and expose individual examples of censorship of artists, performances, museum exhibits, and other public displays in the cultural and entertainment sphere that might otherwise go unreported. They can do so by creating and publicizing open solicitations for information about instances of censorship that allow whistleblowers to remain anonymous.
Education and Awareness
  • The entertainment industry must shine a light on the more generalized and less explicit pressures that censorious governments can bring to bear, specifically the types of pressures that encourage self-censorship and that shrink the space for honest and fearless storytelling.
  • Entertainment companies commit to publicly sharing information on all censorship requests received by foreign governments for their films. Such disclosure could take the form of an annual report similar to the disclosures that technology platforms make regarding government take-down requests and their responses.

Culture and Entertainment

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers exert influence beyond their borders in the arts sector and the film, television, sports, and video games industries.

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Source: Jamestown Foundation

Publication Date: August 18, 2023

Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Eurasia, Georgia

Author: Beka Chedia

View Resource: Geopolitical Surprise In The Caucasus: Georgia Declares A Strategic Partnership With China

Georgia has forged a strategic partnership with China after years of closeness with Western partners. China’s increasing influence in Georgia, particularly through investment in key strategic infrastructure, threatens Georgian democracy and the potential for rapprochement with NATO.

Source: The Guardian

Publication Date: August 11, 2023

‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Authoritarian Country: Saudi Arabia

Affected Region: North America, United States, Europe, United Kingdom, Global

Author: Paul MacInnes

View Resource: ‘It’s Not a Fad’: the Truth Behind Saudi Arabia’s Dizzying Investment in Sport

Saudi Arabia is investing heavily in sports to bolster the country’s international image while advancing domestic development goals. Activists and experts warn that the Saudi government is “sportswashing” to distract from recent human rights abuses.

Source: Centro Latinoamericano de Investigación Periodística

Publication Date: August 6, 2023

Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Latin America and the Caribbean, Bolivia, Nicaragua

Author: Pablo Medina et. al.

View Resource: Rosatom, Russia’s Nuclear Agency, and its Information Strategy to Win Bids in Latin America

As Russia’s nuclear agency, Rosatom, ramped up investment in Latin America, leaders signed agreements to strengthen their “digital communications strategies” and Russia-positive content has begun to appear in local media. Rosatom’s consultants have also intervened to sway local election results.

Source: New York Times

Publication Date: August 4, 2023

How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: United Kingdom, Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Sub-Saharan Africa, North America, United States, Europe

Author: Mara Hvistendahl et. al.

View Resource: How a U.S. Tech Mogul Used Nonprofits to Sow Chinese Propaganda

An American donor with ties to Chinese state media has funneled money through nonprofit organizations to ultimately promote Chinese talking points within leftist activist groups, think tanks and media outlets worldwide.

Source: Euractiv

Publication Date: June 19, 2023

Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Bulgaria

Author: Krassen Nikolov

View Resource: Almost 400 Websites Spread Russian Propaganda in Bulgaria

Bulgaria has seen a rapid growth in Russian propaganda over the past year, spreading disinformation and fake news through a network of growing mushroom sites, or websites created by malicious actors to project disinformation.

Source: Reuters

Publication Date: May 30, 2023

The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Authoritarian Country: Russia

Affected Region: Europe, Germany

Author: Tassilo Hummel, Polina Nikolskaya, Mari Saito, Maria Tsvetkova, Anton Zverev

View Resource: The Meat Magnate Who Pushed Putin’s Agenda in Germany

Ties between a German national soccer team and Russia’s state-owned gas company contributed to a blossoming relationship between the two countries. Foreign investment across Russian and German enterprises facilitated the spread of Russian influence and improved public opinion about Russia in Germany.


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