Tampere company subcontracted by China to produce radio programming for world audience
Communications professor warns against being used as propaganda tool
An inconspicuous red-brick building stands next to the main library of the University of Tampere. Housed inside is a secretive media company whose 60 employees are basically working for the Chinese government.
The building houses Radio86, which was set up by Chinese businessman Yinong Zhao. Radio86 produces audio programming about China for the internet, and buys programme time for the broadcasts from Finnish and foreign radio stations.
Radio86 is run by Futuvision Media, which gets its financing from the Chinese government-owned China Radio International.
China recently decided to outsource most of its European media activities to this Tampere-based company.
In Finland, Radio86 has produced a magazine programme called Beijing Bop to the Groove FM radio network for broadcast once a week. From Monday next week, Rondo FM, a station specialised in classical music, will start broadcasting an hour and a half of daily programming about China.
“Unfortunately we cannot receive you tomorrow”, was the answer when Helsingin Sanomat asked for a chance to photograph the offices in Tampere.
Ordinary employees are reluctant to speak, saying that all information that is given out is produced by consultant Henrik Resman.
In seven years the number of employees has grown from just a handful to 60. In 2010 Futuvision Media reported a turnover of EUR 2.6 million.
The company is constantly recruiting new personnel. Employees come from many countries, including the Nordic Countries, China, France, Italy, Greece, and Latvia. The working language is English, and radio and on-line content is produced in at least 13 languages for various media.
There are more than ten target countries, and the number is growing. This year the company has established a strong foothold in a Greek radio station, and a similar project is planned for Turkey.
In addition to Tampere, Futuvision has offices in several other cities, including Paris, Beijing, and Milan.
Next week a new editor-in-chief will start work in Tampere. Jussi-Pekka Koskiranta, who has previously worked for cultural programming at the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), will focus on directing European journalists, and developing an electronic desk linking the continents.
“China has outsourced most of its European media activities to us. The aim is to prune away duplicated work so that not everyone will have to do everything.”
Koskiranta does not yet know all of what his work will entail in practice. However, he does not believe that China will scrutinise the content of the programming very closely.
“News with a propagandistic slant would not be accepted by Western people. We need to find our own approach which differs from official Chinese news broadcasts, and from the news of the Western media. Naturally this is journalistically challenging”, Koskiranta admits.
Helsingin Sanomat has learned that the task of Radio86 is to function as a public relations ambassador of the Chinese state, and China Radio International monitors its activities closely, dictating the angles of news stories, and programme formats – according to one source who has closely followed the activities of Radio86.
Maintaining direct contact between Tampere and China is Yiong Zhao, who was not able to give an interview to Helsingin Sanomat, as he was en route from Beijing.
A Helsingin Sanomat source says that the aim is to increase the programme flow and to set up separate radio stations. That is why the focus is now on Africa, Caucasia, and Eastern Europe – areas where broadcast licences are easier to acquire than in the West.
Henrik Resman answers his phone while en route from Ghana to Congo. He denies that China has been tightening its reins over Radio86.
He admits that there are moves for expansion. His goal is to bring the programming to as many countries as possible.
Resman will not disclose how much Chinese state funding Radio86 gets each year, nor will he say how much the company spends on air time on different channels.
Linked with the activity is the Tampere-based Global Broadcasting Media Management, whose task, according to Resman, is to “develop and administer the network, while Futuvision produces content”.
Last year, Global Broadcasting Media Management reported a turnover of EUR 4.4 million.
“Resman says that the companies have a “global strategy”, which they implement.
Cooperation between Radio86 and Rondo FM has started quickly. On Wednesday it was still unclear what the content of Monday’s broadcast would be.
Harri Valkonen, CEO of Classicus Oy, which runs Rondo, says that the daily hour and a half of programming time has been split up as part of the programme flow.
“In any case, it is a culture programme, with some current events included. However, I don’t know if it could be called news”, he says.
Last year Classicus Oy acquired the broadcast licence of Classic Radio, which shut down in that year. Last year Rondo’s operations were also threatened by financial problems. In the spring Rondo had a weekly audience of 83,000 listeners.
Valkonen will not say how much money his company is getting from its cooperation with Radio86. He emphasises, however, that the companies are working together to develop programming content.
According to Heikki Luostarinen, Professor of Communications at the University of Tampere, media outlets should think hard before entering into cooperation with channels financed by the Chinese state.
He says that China is sharply increasing the use of this kind of public relations and propaganda. “As long as it is governed in an authoritarian manner, and as long as it uses violence against its own citizens, the attitude toward cooperation should be critical”, Luostarinen says.
He adds that China is looking for outlets that do not look like they are China’s own.
“It’s a bit like money laundering. They are looking for places where the tracks of propaganda can be covered up.”
Radio86 - All About China