Arab-speaking channel, CGTN Arabic, gives China a voice in the Middle East
From Beijing to Dubai: The TV station bringing China and the UAE together
An Arabic-language TV channel giving China a voice in the UAE is aiming to bridge the gap between the Far East and the Middle East.
CGTN Arabic, housed in a massive glass building in Beijing, has a mission to bring the "real China" to Arabic viewers.
Part of the state-owned China Global Television Network, the channel employs an all-Chinese workforce of 150, all of whom are fluent in Arabic.
When the station launched in 2009, its staff saw it as the perfect platform to showcase their Arabic language skills on a large scale.
The National went behind the scenes to meet some of those responsible for celebrating two cultures on the screen.
On a wall covered with screens transmitting the network’s different channels, an animation series with Arabian-looking men, police and children appears.
“We co-produce this show with Saudi TV. It tells the story of Chinese and Saudi children who live in the same neighbourhood. It is dubbed into Arabic,” said Jia Peng, director of the CGTN Arabic channel.
“We will also co-operate with Oman National TV to produce a show that tells the stories of Sindbad and the first Chinese sailors; so we are exchanging maritime tales.”
Jiang Qing is sat close to her screen editing the latest episode of Kunouz Wataneya (National Treasures) — a show that highlights treasures found at emperors’ old palaces.
“In each episode we show three antiquities,” she said.
Like many of her colleagues, she did not have a media background before joining the station — only a strong grasp of the Arabic language.
“I studied Arabic in university and, when the channel was launched in 2009, they placed announcements in universities for job opportunities. I was nominated by my instructors.
“I had to undergo three entrance exams in spoken and written Arabic and English. The media part they gave us training for.”
The channel also celebrates Arab and Muslim national holidays by broadcasting live from local mosques where Muslims are seen celebrating Eid, and carrying out live coverage of celebrations in Muslim regions, the social media co-ordinator said.
On Facebook alone, CGTN Arabic has more than 13.5 million followers from the Mena region and the rest of the world.
With correspondents across eight Arab countries, co-produced shows between China and Gulf countries, the network’s officials believe they are building a bridge between China and the Arab world.
“The world might cover the same perspective, but as the Arabic channel we are the bridge between the Arab and the Chinese, so introducing the real China to the Arab viewer is our primary goal,” said Mr Jia.
“And the second goal is to explain the Chinese vision towards Arab and global issues, and to cover Arab and Chinese functions and bilateral relations,” he said, as the channel broadcasted the events of the Eighth Arab Chinese Forum in Beijing last week.
Basing their Mena bureau in Dubai has given them access to all the hotspots in the region.
Li Gang, the channel’s former Dubai correspondent, covered the Syrian crisis when it was at its peak for two months in 2012.
“China is against any foreign interference in Syria, so our focus was to show the effects of the war on people’s lives,” he said.
“The situation was very difficult for the people, there was inflation. And many refugees in Jordan and European countries.
“I stayed in Damascus, there were many bombings and even the capital Damascus was a dangerous place, we wore anti-bullet shields to move around,” he said.
Currently the host of a political talk show that highlights Arab issues from a Chinese perspective, Mr Li is keen on clarifying misunderstandings.
“Some Western and Arab channels report misleading news about this region, so China wants to broadcast the real news to the Arab world, there are some misunderstandings between China and the Arab world due to false media reports,” he said.
“My biggest challenge is finding Arabic-speaking guests to appear on the show; we host Arab experts staying in Beijing, and try to host some professors from the foreign languages university, but the number is very limited.
“So in the future, we are planning to host guests from their countries through satellite,” he said.
“We want to be the bridge for political, cultural and humanitarian exchange between the Chinese and Arabs,” said Zhang Lu, a news anchor at the channel.
She too was fluent in Arabic before joining the station nine years ago. She studied the language for both her bachelors and masters degrees and taught Arabic in university. When the channel was founded in 2009, she also saw it as an opportunity and applied.
“I sent them my CV and I was recruited.
“I always wanted to become a war correspondent, but I was recruited as an anchor and since then I haven’t moved, so I don’t have any field experience.”
Nonetheless, she is grateful that she practised media in Arabic.
“I spent half of my life studying Arabic, and if I decided to pursue a media career in Chinese, I wouldn’t have as many opportunities as I have in Arabic,” she said.
CGTN Arabic is one of the network’s five foreign language channels, the others being English, French, Spanish and Russian. There are a total of 30,000 employees working for the CGTN network.