Chinese-language media told to promote Govt initiatives
Paid trips to attend Chinese state-sponsored conferences, and a lack of coverage of the Anne-Marie Brady case raises questions about the objectivity of Chinese-language media in New Zealand. Laura Walters reports.
Executives and editors of Chinese-language media have been attending state-sponsored conferences in China aimed at getting overseas media to promote the Chinese Communist Party’s policies, including its Belt and Road Initiative.
Meanwhile, some in the Chinese community in New Zealand have raised concerns about a lack of coverage of the issues raised by the University of Canterbury's Professor Anne-Marie Brady – a story which involves the Chinese community and New Zealand’s relationship with China.
In October 2018, Lili Wang, the publisher, director and shareholder of Chinese Herald – an NZME joint venture – travelled to China to attend the 2018 'Media Cooperation Forum' on Belt and Road in Hainan Province.
The forum was hosted by state-run media The People’s Daily, along with the Hainan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, and the provincial government.
China’s Xinhua News Agency reported deputy head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee Jiang Jianguo saying media was expected to play an important role in recording, participating and promoting the initiative, and were encouraged to strengthen cooperation and report stories in countries along the Belt and Road.
Multiple members of the Chinese community suggested to Newsroom that Wang was asked to attend the forum after the Chinese Herald published a story about Brady’s research into the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) United Front. The research, and her paper Magic Weapons, is critical of the CCP's efforts to influence, and interfere in, foreign democracies.
“Given the small-size nature of our editorial team (we have only limited editors covering all topics and all columns), we cannot deliver tailored gowns for Ms Brady to conveniently dress her own agenda."
Wang could not be reached for comment, but Chinese Herald editor in chief Kenny Yu said the editorial team was independent of management.
"I cannot speak on her terms to answer your questions in regards to her itinerary,” he said.
Since her trip, the Chinese Herald has published one article about Brady. The article published in March, was about a Parliamentary Select Committee’s initial decision to decline Brady’s request to make a submission on its inquiry into foreign interference.
There was no coverage of Brady’s subsequent appearance at the select committee, nor any translation of articles published by the NZ Herald.
Yu said the Chinese Herald had covered the Brady saga.
“Given the small-size nature of our editorial team (we have only limited editors covering all topics and all columns), we cannot deliver tailored gowns for Ms Brady to conveniently dress her own agenda,” he said.
“But as the chief editor of Chinese Herald, I assure you we will continue covering Mrs Brady so long as we have resources and new information and updates are in place.”
Media called on to spread CCP message
Wang is not alone in accepting state-sponsored trips to media conferences and training forums in China.
In 2017, Stella Hu, director and shareholder of NZC Media Group, which owns and runs Panda TV, Radio Chinese, Kiwi Style magazine and the Chinese Times, travelled to China to attend the Ninth Forum on the Global Chinese Language Media in Fujian Province.
The forum was sponsored by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, Fujian Provincial People’s Government and China News Service. The theme of the forum was Belt and Road initiative and the New Development of Global Chinese Language Media.
At the conference, vice-chairperson and secretary-general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Wang Chen said he hoped overseas Chinese-language media workers would become the major force that spread Chinese culture, told Chinese stories and promoted the friendship, according to an article in the Women in China magazine.
Meanwhile, China News Service – the second largest state-owned news agency in China - reported that Qiu Yuanping, the director of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, called on Chinese-language media around the world to “play an active role in the Belt and Road Initiative”.
She said overseas media should advocate for BRI, and said media organisations could promote information sharing, policy discussions, cultural integration, and exchange of people between China and other countries in the initiative, according to the China News Service report.
Overseas Chinese media outlets also had a part to play in helping disseminate information, building interconnectedness between China and other countries, assisting overseas Chinese spiritually, and creating a favourable international opinion of China, Qiu said at the time.
“China is developing so fast that there is a lot to learn about it, it is a good opportunities to get fresh ideas and also share stories with other media people from different countries. Sometimes we take inspiration from others to improve our operation level."
"You are the participant, witness and recorder of this great age.”
Hu said she, along with most Chinese-language media in New Zealand, were invited to attend the forum in 2017, and her company covered her costs.
“China is developing so fast that there is a lot to learn about it, it is a good opportunities to get fresh ideas and also share stories with other media people from different countries. Sometimes we take inspiration from others to improve our operation level,” Hu said.
She said she did not believe meetings like this affected the neutrality of news coverage.
The forum never gave any instruction, she said, adding that it was more like a platform for media people to get together and get global views to update knowledge.
“As media, journalistic principles are rooted in our mind. Our hosts produce their own programme, and independent commentators are as well. We have common sense like all other media,” she said.
Other CCP-friendly media in New Zealand have been invited to China, on expenses-paid trips (sometimes media had to cover their own airfares). Recently, director and part-owner of Oceania TV Luis Pang was also photographed with President Xi Jinping during a trip to China.
'I can meet who I choose'
In contrast editor of the website Mandarin Pages (formerly Mandarin Times) David Soh was photographed meeting Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on a trip in 2016.
Soh said the trip to attend the President’s “open house” during a national day of celebration was fully paid for by Taiwan.
"I live in a free society, I am free to travel to anywhere I choose, to meet whoever I choose."
The Mandarin Pages was not “Pro-Taiwan”, Soh said, adding that he had also been on trips to China, where accommodation and expenses were paid for by the state.
“If I was invited to go to North Korea, I would,” he said.
“I live in a free society, I am free to travel to anywhere I choose, to meet whoever I choose.”
Soh said he would describe his publication as “independent and focused in local relevance” and he was careful to cover a diverse range of viewpoints.
The editor said these types of trips were not bribes, and believed it was acceptable to receive support from government in order to cover important news events.
Soh likened it to New Zealand media accepting NZ On Air funding, and said the support was a good thing, as long as it was not in exchange for disseminating propaganda.
Suggestion of self-censorship
However, China has a different approach to New Zealand on media freedom.
Some media outlets in New Zealand, including the Chinese Herald and SkyKiwi have been accused of self-censorship.
Earlier this year, Stuff revealed the Chinese Herald edited translated articles from the NZ Herald to put a better light on the Chinese government. It also entirely omitted articles that discussed the Chinese Government in a negative way, in one case taking a much more sanitised version from a Chinese wire service.
Meanwhile, SkyKiwi's Wellington bureau chief Lily Wang - not to be confused with Lili Wang - told Stuff in a 2018 interview the publication was "careful" about "publishing sensitive information" as the publication's relationship with the Chinese Embassy was very important.
But SkyKiwi's editorial director Leon Li told Stuff the publication followed the same values and ethics as English-language Kiwi media.
As mentioned, coverage of the Brady saga by the Chinese Herald has been limited, with no coverage of her appearance and submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee.
Google searches show other Chinese-language media outlets also decided not to cover Brady’s appearance in May.
Soh’s Mandarin Pages was one of the few, if-not-only, Chinese-language media publication in New Zealand to report on the appearance.
This raised further questions about self-censorship and objectivity within the sector, and some members of the Chinese community - who did not want to be named - raised this issue with Newsroom.
Some editors believe there is a lack of editorial independence, and there is a spectrum that ranges from CCP-friendly, and following what Brady describes as 'the Xinhua line', through to dissident publications like The Epoch Times.
Some research has found the CCP uses overseas Chinese-language media as part of its external propaganda strategy.
The Center for International Media Assistance said the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council actively engaged with overseas Chinese language media through the China News Service – “an important arm of the Chinese government in disseminating its propaganda among overseas Chinese”.
The purpose of forums, like the one attended by Stella Hu, was to “drum up positive coverage of China’s priorities, rather than to encourage independent assessments of what the Chinese government is doing both at home and abroad”, the centre said.
China’s official news agency Xinhua also provided free content to these media outlets, in an effort to keep overseas coverage ‘pro-CCP’.
There were also examples of media outlets being targeted if they strayed from the ‘Xinhua line’.
Last year, New Zealand-based Chinese dissident Chen Weijian told NPR he had been forced to shut down his New Zealand publication Beijing Spring.
In 2012, a pro-CCP newspaper sued Chen for defamation after he criticised it for being pro-Beijing.
“Their paper was funded by businesses supported by China’s government...
"So an overseas Communist Party’s propaganda wing crushed our democratic newspaper here in New Zealand," he said.