Major American news outlets reported on Tuesday night that the U.S. Department of State had released new rules which forces Chinese media operating in the United States to register as "diplomatic personnel"- the decision, which impacts CGTN, China Radio International, the People's Daily, the China Daily, Xinhua and others, forces them to report all of their personnel changes to the state department, register their assets and also seek approval if they seek to purchase any new properties. The move was applauded by hawkish American senators and officials, who accused China of seeking to orchestrate a "propaganda campaign" against the United States.
The move is opportunistic and unfounded. It seeks to purposefully misrepresent how Chinese media works and is seeking to whip up fear of "foreign interference" in the view to the Presidential election in November as part of the wider scare campaign against China. Chinese outlets do not, contrary to popular belief, take positions in American domestic politics on matters unrelated to China itself, endorse, promote or spread misinformation pertaining to any given candidate, or impose a vision of what they believe America's system "should be" on their audience. The same cannot be said, ironically for American media outlets who cover China, whom repeatedly and persistently seek to impose their ideological vision on the country's affairs.
"Propaganda" is a term which is vested more in emotion and popular imagination, than empiricism. The term replies in its most specific definition as "information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view." If this take is made a general rule, then it applies to many things which certainly includes almost every single political organization, think-tanks and even company marketing.
Yet in the popular western conception of the term, it does not. Instead, the term carries a logic that propaganda is something "that we don't do, but others do"- it is given a binary, limited scope to refer instead to the rhetoric of a hostile foreign government, but never the rhetoric of one's own government.
Thus in the western mindset, when the United States government speaks or utilizes a given mouthpiece, no matter how deceptive or dishonest the content is, it is never "propaganda" but when something affiliated with China speaks, it is always "propaganda" in the popular definition and to be dismissed accordingly at face value, as the ontological nature of liberalism embeds the idea that the west are the sole bearers of universal truth, therefore those who are not a part of it can never speak with honest or authentic intent.
In turn, this is how Chinese media is subsequently interpreted in American public discourse, it is opportunistically and naturally assumed to have hostile, deceptive and sinister intentions, and building on the aftermath of the Trump Russia scandal, out to subvert, influence and infiltrate American politics.
Except that isn't quite the case. Whilst China's media does aim to "tell China’s story well" and promote the country's standing and interests in the world, nevertheless claims that Chinese media seeks to shape or meddle in American politics are completely unfounded. Chinese media in the United States may cover American affairs, but it does not take positions on domestic issues or elections, nor does it endorse, critique or spread allegations against any given candidate.
At the same time, nor does Chinese media impose a vision on the American population as to how it believes the country "should be" in political-ideological terms, or have a belief it has a right to "change" America- this stands in sharp contrast to leading American publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post etc who constantly believe they have a mission to “change” China to their own vision, as is common in the west.
In this case, the move marks the latest tier of anti-China hysteria and fearmongering which has embroiled Washington. With an election on the way, whipping up fear of China is a tactful way of immortalizing their new consensus on Beijing. However, these given fears of Chinese media are empirically unfounded and if the Trump administration proceeds peddles claims that China is interfering in American elections, as Mike Pence has done before, then the label of "propaganda" might actually be closer to home than a lot of people realize.