Nine Entertainment has quietly dropped an arrangement with China Daily to carry an eight-page Communist party newspaper each month in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Australian Financial Review.
Nine’s move to drop the propaganda sheet China Watch follows similar decisions by media organisations across the world, such as the UK’s Daily Telegraph, which shelved its own lucrative agreement as the pandemic hit in April.
The already strained relationship between Australia and China hit a new low last week with Scott Morrison demanding an apology after a Chinese foreign ministry official tweeted a digitally created image that appeared to show an Australian soldier cutting the throat of a child in Afghanistan.
Under previous owners Fairfax Media, in 2016 the newspapers began carrying the lift-out which is prepared by the Chinese Communist party’s official English-language organ.
At the time, the media company said the insert was a commercial printing arrangement purely for revenue and it was carried in other newspapers internationally including the Washington Post, the Telegraph and France’s Le Figaro.
It ran with the disclaimer that the supplement “did not involve the news or editorial departments” of the respective Australian newspapers.
Nine declined to comment on the ending of the relationship on Tuesday but Guardian Australia understands the contract was not renewed six months ago.
Rival publisher News Corp Australia publishes a Chinese language version of the Australian website with a limited number of its stories translated. The editor-in-chief of the Australian, Chris Dore, said the website was still operating but was not funded by the Chinese state.
“The Australian is not receiving money from China for its Chinese-language edition,” Dore told Guardian Australia. “Unlike the Nine Entertainment tabloids, the Australian has never taken sponsored content deals from the Chinese government.”
Early in the year, as the coronavirus took hold in China, Nine News’ political editor, Chris Uhlmann, said he found the insert “extremely disturbing”.
“Since the moment the decision was made [in 2016] to have the China Daily insert in the Sydney Morning Herald, I’ve made it clear that I’ve found it an extremely disturbing development that Communist party propaganda has the apparent endorsement of an Australian media organisation,” he told News Corp. “I said that before I joined Nine and I haven’t changed my opinion.”
In February, the supplement promoted the government and praised its response to Covid-19, quoting the state-run Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. “China has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous containment and mitigation measures and many go well beyond the requirements of the International Health Regulations,” it said.