Questions have been raised about the Australian Financial Review’s decision to sign a content-sharing agreement with a Chinese media outlet subject to Chinese Government oversight.
- AFR has begun publishing content from Chinese media outlet Caixin Global
- Caixin seen as one of the most outspoken outlets in tightly-controlled Chinese landscape
- AFR says Caixin articles will augment, not detract from, the newspaper’s China coverage
The Fairfax newspaper signed a deal in Sydney this week with the Beijing-based Caixin Global, which paves the way for the two outlets to publish each other’s content.
Caixin is seen as the most influential financial news outlet in China and is widely regarded as one of the most outspoken and reputable in a tightly-controlled environment.
But experts warn there are no completely independent Chinese media outlets.
“Caixin is licensed by the state, has attracted significant state investment, and like other Chinese news outlets its journalism is subject to state oversight,” Dr David Nolan from The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism said.
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Caixin Global is the English language arm of Caixin Media, a group established in 2010, which publishes magazines, online content and books.
China Media Capital (CMC) is the majority shareholder in Caixin Media and was set up with government backing.
CMC is headed by a former top Shanghai government official, Li Ruigang, who is also known as “China’s Rupert Murdoch”.
The AFR published its first stories from Caixin Global on Monday.
University of Melbourne senior journalism lecturer Louisa Lim said one of the articles was “extolling the virtues of the Belt and Road Initiative quite uncritically.”
“One would hope that the AFR would be thinking very carefully about just printing sort of propaganda pieces, which have no investigative reporting component,” she said.
“I think every news outlet … needs to think very carefully about at what price they’re selling their own credibility.”
‘Caixin wanting to push the [censorship] boundary’
The AFR’s editor in chief Michael Stutchbury said the newspaper was not being paid to run Caixin’s content, and the article in question was not by Caixin but was an opinion piece commissioned for a forum on Chinese investment in Australia, co-hosted by the AFR and Caixin.
“We understand that Caixin’s ownership structure has some Chinese state backing, which is not exceptional in the Chinese system,” he said.
“Notwithstanding this, Caixin and its publisher-founder Hu Shuli have a track record of detailed investigative reporting, including into Chinese companies such as insurance giant Anbang and in exposing corruption in Chinese business and government.”
Hu Shuli is one of China’s most respected journalists, has won numerous international awards and was named in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list in 2011.
She is also said to be well connected to the Chinese Communist Party.
“[Hu Shuli] has close ties with top Party leaders, such as Wang Qishan and Xi Jinping,” said Deakin University’s Dr Jian Xu, referring to the Chinese President and Vice-President.
Despite concerns about Caixin’s independence, some said the partnership was a good idea.
“We’re information-poor about China,” Lowy Institute senior fellow for East Asia Richard McGregor said.
“There’s kind of only upside to this. Caixin magazine is not the China Daily, it’s not the People’s Daily, it’s not an arm of the Chinese state, anybody reading it will know where the content comes from because it’s marked.
“I just don’t see any real downside.”
Media studies professor at the University of Technology Sydney Wanning Sun also said Caixin was known for its good journalism and was a logical choice of Chinese partner for the AFR.
“Caixin is known for wanting to push the [censorship] boundary and push the envelope,” she said.
‘Soft power attempt’
It is not the first time Chinese media outlets have linked up with Australian publishers, and media experts are questioning the purpose of this latest deal.
“It would appear that these [Caixin stories] are soft power attempts to influence, and that’s probably what people need to be aware of,” Professor of communication at Deakin University Matthew Ricketson said.
“You might ask … whether there is a question [that] by having this material whether it jeopardises or calls into question their [the AFR’s] own independence.”
Mr Stutchbury said the arrangement would augment, not detract from, the AFR’s existing “vigorous and independent” China coverage.
Caixin Globlal declined to comment to the ABC but said in its own news report that the partnership would help get its content to a wider audience.
“With rising global interest in China, we are bringing our original, investigative journalism to international readers through enhanced English-language offerings,” Ms Hu said.
“The tie-up with the highly respected Australian Financial Review is an important step in this endeavour.”
Caixin already has partnerships with other news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News and the BBC while the Australian Financial Review also collaborates with others such as the Financial Times, The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph in the UK.
The ABC has also been criticised in the past for partnering with the Shanghai Media Group in 2015.
By Ian Burrows