Media and Information

Multimedia

Media and Information

Authoritarian influencers leverage propaganda, disinformation, censorship, and sway over content delivery systems to undercut the integrity of the information space.

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Overview

State dominance over political expression and communication is a fundamental component of authoritarian control. Increasingly, authoritarian leaders that restrict media freedom and manipulate discourse in domestic settings also seek to curate information flows abroad as a form of modern censorship.

Digital-era changes to the information ecosystem have allowed narratives crafted by authoritarian regimes to gain traction far beyond their countries’ borders. Social media and the internet have lowered barriers to entry, enabling new actors to operate as information gatekeepers. Independent media outlets, meanwhile, have become increasingly vulnerable to economic coercion as they struggle to sustain themselves in an unfriendly business environment.


Sharp Power Influence

Authoritarian influencers take advantage of this already challenging information environment to flood the international media market with often coordinated, state-sponsored content: 

  • State media outlets that lack accountable and transparent governance structures—like RT (Russia Today), Sputnik, Press TV, CGTN, and Xinhua, among others—privilege authoritarian narratives and sideline independent perspectives.
  • Content-sharing and coproduction agreements between state-backed and independent news outlets act as a conduit for insinuating regime-friendly content into local reporting.
  • Journalist trainings and exchanges organized by authoritarian powers emphasize the regimes’ achievements and educate foreign journalists on how to report from the official perspective.

Authoritarians also employ trolling, online harassment, and forms of digital disinformation at scale to silence political dissent, shape election outcomes, and undermine democratic institutions. New technologies developed by a thriving commercial sector that offers disinformation as a service are used to demoralize, distract, and divide publics.

Information is a weapon—and one that can be used against us. This is an uncomfortable truth for open, democratic societies. We like to think that our media ecosystem is self-sustaining.

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Edward Lucas

Firming Up Democracy’s Soft Underbelly: Authoritarian Influence and Media Vulnerability

Democratic Responses

Civil society can counter authoritarian sharp power in the media and information space. Familiarity with how authoritarian powers influence the information circulating in print publications, radio broadcasts, television programs, and social media feeds is a crucial first step.

Norms and Standard Setting
  • Media outlets should enhance operational transparency by publishing details about commercial relationships, acknowledging partnerships and information sources, and implementing procedures for receiving public complaints about inaccurate information.
  • The media sector should resist authoritarian efforts to define the boundaries of free expression and association by affirming its commitment to democratic standards, like accountability and human rights, and letting these principles guide engagement with authoritarian actors.
Cross-Sector Collaboration
  • Social media platforms should identify more meaningful ways to work with researchers, journalists, and civil society organizations, for example, to identify emerging threats and problematic accounts tied to authoritarian actors. Platforms should ensure that content producers and independent voices critical of authoritarian influence have an avenue for appeal when encountering online harassment or other censorship efforts.
  • Democracy and rights-focused organizations should incorporate the specific challenges posed by authoritarian media influence into future initiatives, with coordination and support from funders.
Education and Awareness
  • Civil society can help address persistent political-literacy gaps about modern forms of authoritarian influence. Surge capacity for local civil society expertise will help address sharp power inroads in established and emerging democracies alike.
  • An understanding of authoritarian influence should be mainstreamed into nongovernmental work on media freedom, free expression, and internet freedom. A comprehensive mainstreaming strategy can build on existing initiatives and should include investigation and research, actions by media outlets, initiatives led by journalists’ unions and media owner associations, and civil society efforts. 

Media and Information

The reporting and analysis catalogued in the Portal illustrates how authoritarian powers influence the media sector and information space in every region of the world.

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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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