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How CNN smears Chinese journalists by labeling them as AI fiction (II)

By Meng Zhe, Xu-Pan Yiru, and Ge Xinge | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-06-13 17:58

In a May 22 segment on Erin Burnett OutFront, CNN accused China Daily of spreading disinformation through the use of deepfake technology. This charge came as the US intensified its propaganda campaign portraying China as the aggressor in the South China Sea.

CNN's main argument targeted China Daily's featured program, Media Unlocked. Media Unlocked has been a short video program hosted by reporters Meng Zhe and Xu-Pan Yiru since 2019. The program focuses on explaining facts about China, often countering biased Western narratives. In recent months, the program has utilized AI technology to enhance efficiency and productivity, as newsrooms worldwide are experimenting with AI tools in news production and distribution. However, CNN, without proper research, claimed that China Daily used altered faces and voices to "amplify the power of disinformation". They spliced deepfake videos with videos produced by China Daily to create the impression that China Daily's content is deceitful, reinforcing the "China threat" narrative.

In response to China Daily's request for a correction, CNN reporter Will Ripley replied in an email with the following, "we believe the video and audio were manipulated by AI technology to increase efficiency in its delivery – even though the video was based on a real reporter, and the script was provided [by] the China Daily team. ([B]asically, they used the reporter's face and voice, but generated fluent English audio without accent to make their English easier to understand)." Ripley said it was the response from his research team, who assisted him in compiling and verifying the videos they featured in his report.

This response hardly addressed the concerns but further reinforced CNN's bias and double standards towards Chinese media. At the Third Edition of the Global Media Innovation Forum, media executives, including those from the Associated Press and Reuters, acknowledged AI's role in increasing efficiency and shared how AI implementation brought significant changes. When Western media uses AI, it is "strengthening" their functions and "bolstering their core news reports". But when Chinese media uses AI, it is labeled as manipulation.

In a street survey, China Daily found that while people remained cautious about the application of AI in the news industry, most believed that the use of AI would not affect their judgment of the truthfulness of the news itself.

A further investigation into the CNN report revealed an alarming disinformation network. One of the "experts", whom CNN did not identify in the report, turned out to be a key figure in the US-funded disinformation campaign in the South China Sea. Felipe Salvosa II is the editor of the Philippine news outlet PressOne and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which is part of the "Initiative for Media Freedom". According to a document from the USAID website, from July 2019 to July 2024, the initiative received $7.7 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), with a stated goal of "countering disinformation". USAID is notorious for funding disinformation campaigns worldwide.

Since March, Felipe Salvosa II has orchestrated a series of reports on PressOne targeting the Media Unlocked program on TikTok, rallying mass reporting of the TikTok account. These articles misrepresented the use of AI in the videos and smeared the videos' historical and factual approach to the South China Sea disputes as disinformation.

Unfortunately, the coordinated smear campaign by both the US and Philippine sides led to the banning of the Media Unlocked account on TikTok (@MediaUnlock). The Media Unlocked team tried to appeal the ban, but to date, they have not been successful. A source, who wishes to remain anonymous due to concerns about repercussions, told China Daily that there is a specific set of restrictions targeting Chinese media presence on TikTok, which is likely why the Media Unlocked account was banned without reason.

The US-funded influence operations have reached such a manic level that real human beings are forced to prove they are not AI deepfakes. Labels such as state media, disinformation, and AI manipulation are thrown around to discredit content they disagree with. What has been uncovered in the CNN's campaign against Media Unlocked is a complex web of US and Philippine operations designed to control the narrative and influence public perception of the South China Sea issue and beyond.

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