Among the thousands of media from around the world covering the G20 this week were crews from China’s state broadcaster, CCTV.
They have been beaming back stories not just to their headquarters in Beijing but around the world as CCTV builds its bureaus and its presence at remarkable speed.
Nowhere is this more fascinating to watch than in Washington DC, where hundreds of staff have been working and broadcasting for almost three years.
They call it a bureau but CCTV America boasts the kind of staff, resources and technology that would make major television networks blush with shame.
It contributes programming to the 24-hour English news service and operates from a high rise office building in downtown Washington.
It is a few blocks from the White House – ironic, given the complicated nature of the relationship between the Chinese government and the Obama administration.
Mike Walter would wake up early for the drive to the WUSA studios in Washington where he would co-anchor the morning news broadcasts.
He is your all-American prototype of a news presenter – good looks, calm voice, great hair.
But he is now employed by the Chinese government ‘boss’ and is the face of CCTV’s push to be taken seriously as an international broadcaster.
He sees CCTV America’s role as pretty simple.
“When you watch journalism on television here in the US you see FOX that has a decided point of view, you see MSNBC that has a decided point of view, we don’t have a decided point of view,” he told me on a recent visit to the CCTV America bureau.
“Our point of view is put out all the perspectives, put out all the points of view. Let the viewer decide.”
Negative coverage ‘dominates’ international media landscape
CCTV America promotes itself as the “media crossroads where news and views about the world’s two largest national economies intersect and sometimes collide”.
It claims to reach 30 million households in America.
Some still view CCTV as a propaganda machine for the Chinese government but Walter says he’s never come under any pressure to alter his broadcasts or put a certain spin on stories.
He boasts of the interviews he’s managed to score, including Bill Gates.
“What we want to do is be the resource that people turn to for news just like any other news agency,” he said.
He says the stories you tend to see about China on an international landscape are often negative except for its enormous economy.
And that gives a hint of what is also behind this growth in international broadcasting.
This is also CCTV’s attempt to remake its image, particularly here in the US where the communist country is still viewed with suspicion.
Jim Laurie is a respected former foreign correspondent now media consultant to CCTV.
He says the accusations that CCTV is a mouthpiece for the government are unfounded, certainly in the US bureau.
“I have watched the Chinese management and they have at every opportunity tried to push the envelope to what is possible and what is expectable from a Chinese state broadcaster,” he said.
CCTV has deep financial resources and is continuing to expand its global footprint.
Professor David Shambaugh has watched the rise and rise of CCTV for years, as director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University.
“They want to, in particular, break what they perceive to be the monopoly of news interpretation about China by the Western media. They feel there is a profound and deep bias,” he said.
But he questions their impartiality.
“It’s guided. What that means is that there are personnel abroad in every CCTV bureau who vet the way a story is written, produced and aired,” Professor Shambaugh said.
“And indeed they block coverage of certain issues, they select guests that will support a certain editorial line. This is hardly unbiased and objective reporting.”
That doesn’t seem to faze the staff in Washington although business reporter Yun Zou had one message for the critics.
“Sometimes what really frustrates me is that for people who criticize CCTV they actually have never watched our show so I say watch our show and then make a judgment.”