The Chinese government has shown itself to be resourceful and resolute in most matters, and in the area of propaganda and world opinion their activities are no exception. Many countries who are starved for investment have proven receptive to a quid pro quo arrangement where infrastructure and resource development can be exchanged for cooperation in diplomatic channels. More powerful countries have been willing to part with control of large resource and technology companies and trophy properties in exchange for cash, giving the Chinese a toehold in political patronage. And where a need for giving the Chinese Communist Party a direct voice in current affairs arises, publications such as the New York Times, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post have been quite willing to insert whole sections of Chinese government-written propaganda directly into their magazines and newspapers in exchange for more cash. All of this (at least as far as activities in the U.S.) is legal and above board.
And then there is the case of G&E Studio Inc.
G&E Studio Inc. is a California-based company that is majority owned by Guoguang Century Media, a subsidiary of Chinese-government owned Chinese Radio International. G&E broadcasts content from CRI nearly full time on more than a dozen U.S. radio stations. The content, while not necessarily overt propaganda read directly from Mao Tse-tung’s Little Red Book, has nevertheless been found to be interspersed with carefully massaged opinion pieces disguised as news and public interest stories that deliver the viewpoint of the Chinese government, and hence the Chinese Communist Party. G&E’s position is that this activity is legal because the Chinese government does not own the stations in question, but rather leases only the airtime.
The law is quite clear. Under U.S. Code Section 47, subsections b(1) and b(4), “no broadcast or common carrier or aeronautical en route or aeronautical fixed radio station license shall be granted to or held by any alien or the representative of any alien or any corporation directly [or] indirectly controlled by any other corporation of which more than one-fourth of the capital stock is owned of record or voted by aliens; their representatives, or by a foreign government or representative thereof.” G&E, a Chinese controlled entity, is indirectly controlling the license of U.S. radio stations by virtue of leasing their airtime.
I give the credit to the Chinese government for its inventiveness and its willingness to challenge the U.S. legal system. It is hijinks of a sort…the kind of thing that intelligence operatives likely view with some admiration.
But for the U.S. individuals and entities involved with the scheme, I would call it treason. If there was any activity that could be called aiding and abetting a foreign government, this would have to be it. So for all those U.S. radio stations that are hand-wringing in claims of innocence or helplessness over their involvement in leasing airtime to a foreign government, I would have one piece of advice:
While you are in the midst of figuring out how to unwind your sleazy involvement in this scheme, you better hire a good lawyer.
2/7/2018 update. The FCC under the Obama administration opened an investigation of G&E Studio Inc’s practices on 11/4/2015. There has been no subsequent word from the FCC under the Trump administration as to the status of the investigation, although G&E Studio’s website and Internet presence has gone defunct. China Radio International continues to expand its English speaking international broadcasts by whatever media outlets it can co-opt.