Week in Review

Chinese NZ Herald under Chinese state ‘control’ - experts

Chinese media experts say the Chinese NZ Herald's permits and structure means it must adhere to the censorship regime of the Chinese Communist Party, in what Foreign Minister Winston Peters says is a flagrant breach of media freedom. Laura Walters reports.

Experts have identified the Chinese New Zealand Herald website as a propaganda outlet for the government of China.

However, the news outlet's co-owner, NZME, says the Chinese NZ Herald is not beholden to China’s media guidelines and censorship requirements.

An investigation by Newsroom, with the help of China propaganda experts, found the news organisation's operational structure, and its Chinese state internet and security permits, amounted to the news site coming under the supervision and control of various Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities.

Experts who spoke to Newsroom said this meant the news site’s content is subject to the Chinese state’s censorship regime, and is part of the CCP’s United Front Work operations – one of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong's, and now President Xi Jinping’s, so-called “magic weapons”.

University of Canterbury China expert Professor Anne-Marie Brady has written at length about the arm of the United Front work that focuses on information control, partly through integrating and “harmonising” overseas Chinese media with Chinese media within the PRC.

And Foreign Minister Winston Peters has heavily criticised this example of media censorship, saying to “accept censorship from abroad… against the interests of all the local people is something that is to be thoroughly regretted”.

“To conclude, the Chinese NZ Herald is a propaganda outlet of PRC-CCP United Front Work operations in New Zealand, which follows Beijing’s ideological and political guidelines.”

The Chinese New Zealand Herald is a joint venture with NZME – the publisher of the New Zealand Herald – and runs a website in New Zealand, with an office and editorial staff.

The investigation found the publication also runs what is known as a “mirror site” in the PRC, with the domain name: cnzherald.com.

In New Zealand, this domain name redirects to chinesenzherald.co.nz.

NZME denied the existence of this mirror site.

The bottom of the news organisation’s New Zealand website – next to the copyright notice – shows the Internet Business Operation Permit code, issued by the Beijing Municipal Bureau for Telecommunication Management, which represents the PRC Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Next to it is the code for the site’s online information security certificate, issued by Beijing Municipal Bureau of Public Security, which represents the PRC Ministry of Public Security.

Titus Chen, a political scientist specialising in East Asia at the National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan, said online information indicated the Network Security Defense Department of Beijing Municipal Bureau of Public Security was in charge of applications for online information security certificates.

After Newsroom contacted NZME and the Chinese NZ Herald, the website was updated to remove the permit codes.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters did not hold back in his criticism of NZME and the Chinese NZ Herald, saying Beijing would not accept another country controlling its domestic media and nor should New Zealand. Photo: Thomas Coughlan

Chen, who has recently been focusing on cyber propaganda and is an expert on the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front work programme, said these permits, the mirror site, and the way the website was operated showed it was under supervision and control of various PRC authorities.

Results from searching the Internet Security Defense Bureau of the PRC Ministry of Public Security’s system showed the official Chinese NZ Herald website was registered in Beijing and Beijing Zhongxin Tangyin Technology Development Co.(北京中新唐印科技发展有限公司) applied for the permit, and was responsible for the news site’s operational management.

Beijing Zhongxin Tangyin Technology Development Co is wholly owned by the China News Service, one of the CCP’s principal propaganda agencies, which specifically targeted Chinese diaspora communities overseas.

“The China News Service is a subsidiary of, and hence made accountable to CCP United Front Work Department. It means that the Chinese NZ Herald represents and expresses the policy of CCP United Front Work system,” Chen said.

“To conclude, the Chinese NZ Herald is a propaganda outlet of PRC-CCP United Front Work operations in New Zealand, which follows Beijing’s ideological and political guidelines.”

A screenshot of the codes relating to PRC permits at the bottom of the Chinese NZ Herald website. These codes were removed after Newsroom contacted the organisation last week.

As well as Chen, Professor Brady, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, Tom Sear, a University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy (UNSW Canberra) industry fellow, and a New Zealand Chinese-language media manager confirmed they were also aware of these arrangements, and what that amounted to in terms of Chinese state supervision.

But the NZME spokesperson said the two permits were held for commercial reasons to enable it to share content through WeChat.

"WeChat is an important and substantial audience for Chinese NZ Herald, with many Chinese readers using WeChat as their main source of news. These permits are also held to enable Chinese NZ Herald to serve advertisements to readers through WeChat."

The spokesperson said many websites held similar permits enabling them to conduct aspects of their online business in China.

NZME confirmed the state-owned company, Beijing Zhongxin Tangyin Technology Development Co., was used to assist in setting up registration of the permits.

"In no way does it operate or control the Chinese NZ Herald website," the spokesperson said, adding that it was not controlled by the CCP censorship regime.

"Such an arrangement would be completely unacceptable to NZME."

Printing the truth without fear or favour

Foreign Minister Winston Peters did not pull any punches in communicating his disappointment in the NZME joint venture’s “acceptance of censorship from abroad”.

“They’re meant to be the eyes and ears of the public. They’re meant to be the fourth estate. They’re meant to be, without fear or favour, printing the truth," he told Newsroom.

“To wantonly accept censorship from abroad… against the interests of all the local people is something that is to be thoroughly regretted.

“It appears in this case, they’re not prepared to defend them, but rather worship the god of mammon, in the form of financial income.”

“It’s not a matter of being anti any other country, or any other culture, but freedom of the press, which is something we’ve gone to war for; we’ve made enormous sacrifices for, as part of our freedoms."

Those freedoms had to be upheld by those who claimed the rights, he said.

Peters said this case was “an appalling state of affairs, frankly”.

“And it’s absolutely, utterly indefensible. And I’d love to see the management-ownership describe to me what their case is.”

Censorship and self-censorship of Chinese-language media

Recent research by Brady, submissions to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into foreign inference, and media reports have highlighted the issues of censorship and self-censorship of New Zealand’s foreign-language media.

A source with knowledge of the Chinese embassy’s New Zealand operations said there was a coordinated effort to control Chinese language media.

The person, who Newsroom has agreed not to identify for their safety, said: “The Cultural Attaché leads a group at the PRC Consulate in charge of planning, coordinating and controlling the New Zealand Chinese media.”

University of Canterbury Professor Anne-Marie Brady has outlined how the CCP aims to control and harmonise overseas Chinese-language media as part of its United Front work. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

This is not the first time the Chinese NZ Herald has come under scrutiny for its editorial decisions.

In January, Stuff reported the organisation edited translated articles from the NZ Herald to put a better light on the Chinese government.

Following this, the organisation said it updated its editorial policy to include the requirement for the editor to publish content in full, at the direction of the NZ Herald editorial team.

However, last month it ran an altered translation of the NZ Herald’s story about former trade minister Todd McClay's role in arranging a $150,000 National Party donation from Chinese racing industry billionaire Lang Lin.

And in June, Newsroom reported the website published and then retracted an article which made a number of debunked and controversial claims about the recent protests in Hong Kong.

Raynor Asher, chair of membership-based body the Media Council, said the Chinese NZ Herald was not a member, and the council had not received any complaints about the publication’s articles or general operations. There was precedent for a non-member to be investigated and ruled upon, with its consent, he said.

But Peters said he would expect a professional body to clean up its own act.

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