Five hours after Crikey published our pieces yesterday on the yesterday on the Australian media’s content and advertising agreements with the Chinese press — featuring a heavy dose of criticism from Professor John Fitzgerald on the silence over the deals — Fairfax’s China correspondent, Philip Wen, had an extensive piece on the Fairfax websites about the deals.

Wen asked publishing director Allen Williams whether Fairfax’s financial situation had pushed it into these kind of arrangements. Williams replied:

“Look, the reality today is that it’s not being driven by our financial position, this is an opportunity that has come along where we’re getting revenue from a printing job, and the margins in it are like any normal printing job we would do.”

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald and Professor Wanning Sun have written in the Lowy Interpreter about the significance of the deals, and, in particular, the significance of the arrival in Sydney last week of Chinese propagandist Liu Qibau:

“Liu’s visit was noteworthy. A party official with no government title, Liu is one of the most powerful Party cadres outside the seven-strong Politburo Standing Committee. His arrival marked the first visit to Australia by a Party Propaganda Bureau chief …

“Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has implemented a ‘going global’ strategy, including a hefty push for Chinese state media to go abroad. Taking to heart Joseph Nye’s argument that soft power is ‘about whose story wins (not whose army wins)’, the Party has tasked the external branch of the Propaganda Bureau with the mission to ‘tell the world China’s story.’

“At home the Propaganda Bureau’s primary task is to tell China’s media what can’t be published. Every day it issues a list of forbidden current affairs topics to guide all media operations. The Panama Papers was recently among them. It polices some topics to ensure they never receive favourable mention, including freedom of the press, universal values, civil society, civil liberties, and so on. These prohibitions apply to its overseas publications placed in prestige media outlets such as the Fairfax press. Overseas, the Propaganda Bureau plays an additional role in ensuring that whatever is published burnishes a glowing image of China and its rightful place in the world.

“As far as the Chinese side is concerned, deals such as this are not about commercial opportunity. They are about using propaganda to advance national strategy. China’s media experts have done their homework on the Australian media and found opportunities to exploit the financial vulnerability of the mainstream private media market.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey