It can come in the form of an admonishing phone call, blocking reporters from a public event, via directives for mainland-linked businesses to pull advertising, or even direct investment from Chinese government bodies.
One way or another, Beijing has extended its messaging control over almost all the Chinese language media in Australia, Australian Chinese media sources say. Politically sensitive or unfavourable coverage of China and the ruling Communist Party has been effectively stopped outside all but a couple of Chinese language outlets, as the government steps up efforts to filter what the Chinese diaspora consumes.
“Nearly 95 per cent of the Australian Chinese newspapers have been brought in by the Chinese government to some degree,” said an editor who works at a pro-Chinese government publication in Australia, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The terms for the media are clear: “To report the good news about the Chinese government, not the bad news of course,” the editor said.
The tactics employed involve both stick and carrot, and exploit the commercial pressures small independent publications routinely face. Advertisers, usually Chinese-owned firms or businesses which rely on good relations with the Chinese government, are told by consulate officials to pull advertising from non-compliant media outlets, and are directed instead to divert their dollars to those who toe the party line, the editor said. Consular advertising budgets are directed to friendly media, and Australian Chinese newspapers rely on the income stream from state-owned publications in China paying to place several editorial pages – which are laid out in China – in each edition. The end result, the editor said, is that almost all the Australian Chinese newspapers only publish what the Chinese government wants them to.
An independent Australian Chinese-language newspaper and website in Sydney, which has defied Chinese consular pressure to censor sensitive subjects including the recent anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, told Fairfax Media it has had advertisers pull out after Chinese consular and government pressure.
In one instance earlier this year, kitchen appliance manufacturers from Zhejiang Province withdrew their one-year advertising contracts after a Chinese government official visiting Australia saw the ads and asked the companies to do so, the sources say. Fairfax Media has seen emails and text messages from two of the companies terminating their contracts, which say it was necessary “due to urgent instructions from Ningbo Zhejiang government”.
It is not only Chinese-owned businesses coming under pressure, but businesses that rely on the Chinese market.
An independent Australian Chinese-language newspaper told Fairfax Media it had struck a deal to supply its publications to a 5-star hotel, the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, early last year. Weeks later, following publication of a story about an SBS investigation into organ harvesting in China, the hotel told the newspaper it was cancelling the deal.
“Our newspaper was invited by the Sofitel marketing team to be in their lobby as reading material for Chinese travellers,” a statement from the media outlet’s board of directors says. “However, after a few weeks, Sofitel received a call from the Chinese Consulate asking them to remove our newspaper or face financial consequences. Sofitel does a lot of business with China.”
A spokeswoman for the hotel declined to comment. The newspapers were removed in March last year .
At the Fair Work Ombudsman’s launch of its Chinese communications strategy earlier this year at Zilver restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown, two local reporters from the Epoch Times, the US-headquartered, Falun Gong-aligned newspaper which is regularly critical of China’s human rights record, were asked by the Ombudsman’s office to leave after a Chinese consular official saw them there.
A spokeswoman for the Ombudsman said the incident was the responsibility of a “third-party provider” who drew up the invite list.
“Unfortunately, as the proceedings were about to commence, the third-party provider advised the Fair Work Ombudsman that Chinese Consular representatives who were assisting with the launch objected to the attendance of The Epoch Times at the function because of issues or disputes unknown to the Fair Work Ombudsman,” the spokeswoman said.
Both the Ombudsman’s office and the “third-party provider” subsequently apologised to the Epoch Times for their treatment, which was “sincerely regretted”, she said.
Fairfax Media made multiple requests for comment on the allegations to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra and the Chinese consulate in Sydney, but received no response.
Chongyi Feng, an associate professor of China Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney founded the short-lived Chinese-language newspaper Sydney Times in 2006. He has first-hand experience of the heavy-handed pressure exerted by Chinese officials. As well as coming under the commercial pressure of advertisements being pulled, he said the Chinese consulate would make thinly-veiled threats about interfering with his academic work by blocking collaboration with Chinese universities and restricting his ability to obtain visas to travel to the mainland. He says his newspaper was not commercially viable once advertisers pulled out and he had to close it.
“It’s much worse now, because China has more money,” he said.
Acting under directives from the central government, China’s propaganda department is co-ordinating a global effort to step up its soft power outreach commensurate with its economic and political stature in the world, spending $US6.8 billion ($9.1 billion) a year to run and expand the international reach of official state-run media including Xinhua, CCTV, China Radio International and the China Daily.
In Australia, this includes the proliferation of Confucius Institutes at Australian universities and last month’s raft of deals with Australian media outlets, including with Fairfax Media, publisher of the Sydney Morning Herald, to include a monthly China Daily insert in its newspapers.
Lowy Institute research fellow Peter Cai calls “Beijing’s effort to control and shape overseas Chinese-language media” a “hidden disease, largely invisible to the Australian public and English-speaking population”.
“Beijing has managed to penetrate and co-opted a large number of Chinese language media outlets,” he wrote in May. “China Radio International is even using a Melbourne Chinese community radio station CAMG as a front to set an extensive international network of Chinese and foreign language propaganda outfits.”
The Communist Party exerts near-total control within China’s borders over what the state-run media prints or broadcasts. Stories critical of the party’s central leadership or otherwise deemed subversive are strictly banned, and numerous major foreign news outlets, as well as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, are blocked online.
Back in Australia, Chinese consular pressure on local Chinese-language media has been compounded by pro-mainland interests increasingly acquiring majority stakes in previously independent newspapers, including Melbourne’s Pacific Times. Other influential newspapers are run by pro-mainland Australian-Chinese business interests, including New Express Daily, owned by billionaire and prolific political donor Chau Chak Wing.
The ABC scrapped its Mandarin short-wave radio broadcasts in 2013, further restricting the Chinese-language alternatives available in Australia. The majority of content available on Chinese-language community radio stations is now provided directly by the state-run China Radio International.
Newer and increasingly popular online news outlets, mainly disseminated via Chinese social media application WeChat and targeted at younger audiences, are also monitored and regulated by Chinese internet censors for sensitive content. It all adds up to less diversity of views for Australia’s growing Chinese-speaking demographic.
“The net effect is now the Chinese community in Australia, actually their major cultural consumption is still party propaganda,” says Chongyi Feng.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/chinese-language-newspapers-in-australia-beijing-controls-messaging-propaganda-in-press-20160610-gpg0s3.html#ixzz4DzODDbUZ
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