Culture and Entertainment

Culture and Entertainment

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

Entertainment

Overview

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.

Entertainment
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: Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Publication Date: October 4, 2022

Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is Influencing Solomon Islands’ Information Environment

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Asia-Pacific, Solomon Islands

Author: Blake Johnson et al.

View Resource: Suppressing the Truth and Spreading Lies: How the CCP is Influencing Solomon Islands’ Information Environment

Following the November 2021 Honiara riots and the March 2022 leaking of the China–Solomon Islands security agreement, the CCP used propaganda and disinformation to push false narratives in an effort to shape the Solomon Islands public’s perception of security issues and foreign partners.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: September 6, 2022

Chinese Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Author: Tijana Cvjetićanin

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Chinese Communist Party strives to cultivate cultural, political, and academic ties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These efforts are more pronounced in the Republika Srpska, where the authorities tend to adopt a pro-Russian and anti-Western foreign policy stance.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: September 1, 2022

Chinese Influence in Serbia

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Serbia

Author: Stefan Vladisavljev

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Serbia

Chinese influence in Serbia is spread through various means. The most conspicuous and successful tools have been economic cooperation between Serbia and China, activities of the Chinese embassy, bilateral visits, “mask and vaccine diplomacy,” and cooperation with Serbian media.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: August 30, 2022

Chinese Influence in Bulgaria

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, Bulgaria

Author: Ruslan Stefanov

View Resource: Chinese Influence in Bulgaria

China’s objective is to build an influential pro-Beijing lobby and prevent Bulgaria from joining the group of China’s outspoken critics. In the absence of any substantial initiative as the 16/17+1 format peters out, old-style Chinese propaganda is unlikely to sway many Bulgarians.

Source: Center for European Policy Analysis

Publication Date: August 29, 2022

Chinese Influence in North Macedonia

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Europe, North Macedonia

Author: Ana Krstinovska

View Resource: Chinese Influence in North Macedonia

North Macedonia is a member of several international organizations, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and NATO, where the vote of each country counts. Thus, China seeks to ensure North Macedonia’s friendship, or at least neutrality, on resolutions tabled by Western governments.

Source: Foreign Policy Research Institute

Publication Date: August 28, 2022

Political Training Under the Belt and Road Initiative: A Look into the Chinese Communist Party’s First Party School in Africa

Authoritarian Country: China

Affected Region: Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Mozambique

Author: Raphael Chan

View Resource: Political Training Under the Belt and Road Initiative: A Look into the Chinese Communist Party’s First Party School in Africa

Through Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere Leadership School, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) allows foreign political parties to learn from its experience in governance and development while cultivating foreign partnerships that will advance CCP foreign policy goals.

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