Concern over China’s influence on Chinese media in Australia

China's efforts to exert control over the media are increasingly extending beyond its borders, prompting analysts to express concern about Beijing's growing influence over the 150-year-old Chinese-language press in Australia.

The result, say critics, is that Chinese Australians face a loss of media diversity and a press that is becoming less free as Beijing seeks to reach out to citizens and students abroad.

Aside from seeking to broadcast Chinese state-run media outlets such as China Radio International, experts say Beijing has been making efforts to gain a voice in locally run media targeting Australia's fast-growing Chinese community.

Australia, a country of 22.7 million people, has about 900,000 citizens of Chinese ancestry - a figure which has grown roughly fourfold in the past 25 years. There are also about 115,000 students from China.

Analysts say Chinese-language media outlets have developed cosy relations with Chinese consulates and diplomats in Australia and increasingly avoid dealing with sensitive issues such as Tibet and the Falungong.

The development has been attributed to Beijing's diplomatic clout, a growing interest and pride in China's rise, and the burgeoning number of arrivals from mainland China, rather than Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as the sizeable Chinese student population.

Professor John Fitzgerald, an expert on Asian communities in Australia at Swinburne University of Technology, says Chinese consulates and officials have made a concerted effort to place content in local media and network with Chinese media.

China's efforts to broadcast its own content in Australia effectively, he said, "outlaws the slightest criticism of the (Chinese Communist Party) or (People's Republic of China) government on its Australian radio and press networks".

In an article this month in The Asan Forum, an online Asia-Pacific website, he said: "Beijing's investments in Australia's Chinese language media have had negligible impact on the broader Australian public, but they are earning high dividends among the Chinese-Australian communities targeted through an active public-diplomacy programme that is highly strategic, clearly focused and generously supported."

Chinese newspapers have a long and rich history in Australia, dating back to the creation of the Chinese-English Advertiser - believed to be the world's first bilingual Chinese-English newspaper - during the gold rush in the state of Victoria in 1856.

There are now about 30 Chinese newspapers in Australia. Many are distributed free in Chinese grocery shops and restaurants and make their money largely from advertising.

Increasingly, say analysts, the media targeting the Chinese- speaking community in Australia has become more supportive of China and less likely to carry stories that may anger Beijing.

One of the main Chinese-language media groups, Austar International Media Group, has established ties with China Radio International, which provides Beijing- based content that is streamed directly onto Australian radio sets.

The managing director of Austar, Mr Tommy Jiang, admitted earlier this year that he "shares time" with China Radio International and receives assistance such as training from the broadcaster.

"We share some of our time and they train our staff," he told Fairfax Media in April.

"Sometimes we can send people there on exchange and they don't charge us for training with pronunciation, operating the equipment, editing and interviewing."

There has been very little research on the Chinese media landscape in Australia and scant attention is paid by the mainstream media or Australians in general to this changing dynamic.

One of the few large-scale studies, published in 2011, found that the Chinese media in Australia had become more pro-China and tended to focus more on Chinese issues than on domestic Australian news.

It found there had been an "increasingly closer, and unambiguously mutually supporting, relationship between many Chinese- language media organisations and Chinese official bodies".

The study titled The Chinese-language Press In Australia: A Preliminary Scoping Study, said the waves of students and citizens arriving in the past 20 years have tended to be ideologically more pro-China than the preceding wave of arrivals, who were given entry after Beijing's crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.

The result, said Prof Fitzgerald, is that "freedom of speech can no longer be taken for granted among Chinese Australians".

This article was first published on JUNE 30, 2014.
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