A new report has confirmed long-standing concerns that Australia’s Chinese-language media landscape is dominated by outlets “friendly towards the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
“The influence environment” by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analysed the content, political stances, business ties, and management structures of 24 of the largest Chinese-language media (print and online), located mainly in the country’s capital cities.
It found that executives from 12 media outlets have been members of organisations controlled by the United Front Work Department, Beijing’s foremost overseas infiltration organ. At the same time, four outlets were directly owned or received financial support from the CCP.
One of the largest online Chinese language media is Sydney Today, who had an alleged 670,000 followers in 2019.
The co-founder of Sydney Today, Stan Chen was also listed as vice-president of the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC) until 2018.
The ACPPRC’s former president Huang Xiangmo has made regular headlines in recent years over political donation scandals and the downfall of former Senator Sam Dastyari. The ACPPRC is also connected to a body controlled by the United Front.
Sydney Today has also actively censored and removed content, particularly around foreign interference investigations by Australian security agencies, and Falun Gong, the meditation practice persecuted by the CCP.
The owners of ACB News, Queensland’s VAC International Media, and Melbourne’s Australia Pacific Media Group, and Ostar Media were found to have business interests in China, which may provide a lever for the CCP to influence their editorial leanings.
The report also found 17 organisations have sent delegates to the Global Chinese Language Media Forum in China, a major event headlined by CCP heavy-hitters and the United Front.
At the most recent event in 2019, attendees were encouraged to “tell China’s story well” and promote cooperation between the CCP and the world.
Australia regularly sends one of the largest delegations to the event, after the United States and Canada. Since 2013, 92 Australian-based Chinese media outlets have dispatched delegates to the forum, including public broadcasters ABC and SBS.
The CCP has expended considerable resources fostering relationships with overseas Chinese media and thereby influence the greater Chinese-speaking diaspora. In 2017, United Front Deputy Director Tan Tianxing visited Sydney to meet with the heads of local media outlets to encourage them to promote the alleged benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The advent of Chinese social media app WeChat meanwhile has also accelerated the influence and spread of pro-Beijing media.
Content on WeChat is directly censored by Beijing, with posts deemed sensitive or disadvantageous to the CCP often removed.
Earlier this month, a post on WeChat by Prime Minister Scott Morrison was deleted by the app. The post was published in response to the CCP foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s provocative Twitter post belittling the Australian Defence Force.
Only two of the 24 media outlets (The Epoch Times Chinese and Vision Times Media) did not have active WeChat channels.
The report complements earlier revelations by Australia’s peak intelligence body, the Office of National Intelligence that the CCP has influence or control over two-thirds of online Chinese news media.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge has also warned that “malign information or propaganda” could be spreading through ethnic media, including outlets “controlled or funded” by state players.