As concerns mount over Beijing’s grip on Australia’s Chinese-language media, the Communist Party is working to shape the narrative of mainstream outlets too.
China’s state-controlled media giants have been determinedly pushing cooperation deals with international media outlets, including in Australia.
The ABC and Sky News are among the Australian media that collaborate with Chinese partners, in deals spanning everything from entertainment to news programming.
“By doing this sort of thing and having more of this type of cooperation, we will cover the world or cover China in a more open, objective and truthful way,” said Liu Ge, the deputy director of CGTN, the English-language channel of state television broadcaster CCTV.
“We know China better and we know the history, we know the culture.”
Next month ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie will travel to Beijing to meet Chinese partners, including CCTV representatives.
An ABC spokesman said existing partnerships would be discussed, including a Window on Australia promotion “that will see Australian programs aired on Chinese television as part of a content exchange”.
“These programs are primarily sourced from ABC Commercial’s catalogue,” he said.
‘Marxist view of journalism’
Officials in Beijing have stressed that joint cooperation on news and current affairs is the next goal, in a bid to rectify what China’s Government has long believed is a skewed narrative in the Western media.
“One thing we’ve seen under Chinese President Xi Jinping in the last couple of years is renewed training in what’s known as the Marxist view of journalism,” said David Bandurski, the editor of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.
“One of the tenets of this view is a repudiation of Western press value”.
Despite these differences, the China Daily was able to pay to insert a series of monthly news lift outs in major Fairfax newspapers last year.
Another example of current affairs cooperation was a panel show co-produced between CCTV and Sky News, in which Chinese analysts squared off against Australian experts in Beijing on contentious issues such as the South China Sea.
A second program was filmed later in the year at Sky in Sydney, but only after a last minute dispute erupted in which CCTV successfully overrode Sky’s intention to broadcast live.
“Sky insisted on doing it live to air, CCTV was horrified,” said one person closely involved with the program.
Michael Keane, an expert in Chinese media at Curtin University, said: “You could look at this as KPIs — these are things they’ve been told to do. Chinese media has been told to go out.”
He said some projects, such as a co-production of children’s television between the ABC and CCTV, were successful examples of cooperation.
“When it comes down to news programming, the inevitable problem comes up of censorship,” he said.
Another tactic to push China’s view is through increasingly regular exchanges with Australian journalists.
In May, six senior Australian journalists met Chinese counterparts at a series of events organised by the Australia China Relations Centre at UTS and the Communist Party’s All China Journalists Association.
ACRI has organised similar events before, while China’s State Council has since 2006 convened four separate Australia-China Media Forums that have brought Australian reporters to China.
A senior State Council official told the journalists present at last year’s forum in Chengdu that the Australian and Chinese media should adhere to principles of “mutual respect” and “win-win cooperation”.
Such exchanges are seen as an opportunity by the Chinese side to present Government talking points, according to an Australian diplomat previously involved in organising them.
“Discussion and professional exchange needs to be ‘no holds barred’,” Mr Bandurski said.
“If, for example, those Chinese journalists can’t talk about the larger issues in their profession, including censorship, including the Marxist view of journalism, then the substantive is left out of the exchange.
“Does it serve another agenda? We’re dealing with some political issues that make this issue [of exchanges] quite a thorny one.”
By Bill Birtles