Outer Space in the Media Space: How Russian and Chinese News Media Present the Commercialization and Militarization of the Space Domain

January 2022 No Comments

Authors: Cooley, S. (School of Media and Strategic Communications, Oklahoma State University); Kluver, R. (School of Global Studies Oklahoma State University); Stokes, E. (College of Communication and Information Sciences, University of

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This report details Russian and Chinese media presentations of operations and intentions in the space domain to their respective populations. These presentations provide us insight into how members of these nation states understand their government’s intentions and activities in the space domain, the opportunities and challenges their government’s face in approaching those intentions and activities, the alliances and norms necessary for space usage, and which actors are attempting to destabilizing the space domain. In both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, state influence, oversight, and, in varying degrees, control of media mean that presented narratives are often quite likely to be a reflection of positions of the state itself; or, at least, that lean themselves toward the positions that the state wishes its population to understand. As a result of such oversight, often times even oppositional media sources are constrained to simply respond and react to the narratives reflecting positions of the state.

The narratives generated by these media are extremely important because how a population understands the scope, history, and significance of an issue or event, in many ways dictates how a government can respond to changes, challenges, and opportunities related to those issues or events. Media narratives in a managed state thus become a sort of self-created box of responses and directions that state can take toward a given issue or event. The ability to look inside those narrative boxes provides insights into how to best approach an issue or event, in relation to such managed states, because, in many ways, we can anticipate the responses they themselves have committed to their populations regarding those items.

This report tracks Russian and Chinese media presentations of the space domain from September 2017 to April 2018, and further includes analyses of government issued documents related to space dating back to 2014 in order to provide context to the contemporary data. Researchers conducted a content analysis on media presentations related to the questions posed by the SMA group, as well as qualitative reads of the media presentations of the space domain toward identification of the strategic narratives used. Generally speaking, the results of this report show media in both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China present the militarization of outer space as being led, and instigated by, the United States. Escalations between the U.S. and Russia over events in Syria led Russian media to present the U.S. as much more aggressive and unstable compared to presentations in Chinese media. Media in both nations present the development of offensive and defensive space related armaments as being in response to the actions of the United States in the space domain. Further, media in both nations overwhelmingly project their governments as seeking peaceful space developments, political alliances and treaties to de-weaponize outer space. While media in both nations demonstrate their nation as a leader in outer space, Russian media project far more concern for the economic benefits of commercial space development; while Chinese media are more likely to present economic incentives for commercial developments as part of larger geo-political partnerships.

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