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Since Memorial Day is – or at least should be – a remembance and tribute to what’s best about America, it seems appropriate to report some good news: Some of the nation’s leading news organizations have cut some not-at-all-trivial ties with China.
These ties concern their decision to stop distributing with their print editions and posting on their websites a Chinese government propaganda vehicle called ChinaWatch. As I wrote more than two years ago, their decision to present ChinaWatch and the form of this presentation created two problems. First, although the Constitution’s First Amendment should authorize giving even possibly genocidal, increasingly hostile dictatorships the right to present their material in the United States, journalistic ethics and (I believe) the law should require the clear labeling of any such material as foreign government products.
I argued that neither the Chinese government nor the news organization’s carrying their material met these obligations.
Second, since ChinaWatch was paid advertising, it became a source of revenue for the news organizations that featured it, and because these news organizations covered the Chinese government, its appearance raised conflict of interest questions that at least should have – but weren’t – have been forthrightly acknowledged. Importantly, some news organizations have received millions of dollars from Beijing – not decisive sums in terms of the overall finances of some of them, but not trivial, either.
Happily, these problems have now been reduced, although not eliminated. The New York Times said about a year after my post that it had stopped accepting such material from all state-run media. According to this Tibetan dissident publication, the same goes for The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post says it has not run or distributed ChinaWatch specifically since 2019.
Official U.S. government lobbying records show, however, that multi-million dollar relationships still exist between several major U.S. news organizations and Beijing’s propaganda machine. As reported last week by the Washington Free Beacon, over the last six months,
“China Daily [the parent organization of ChinaWatch] paid more than $1.6 million for advertising in Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, and Foreign Policy magazine, according to disclosures filed with the Justice Department. The Beijing-controlled news agency paid another $1 million to American newspapers, including the L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, and Houston Chronicle, to print copies of its own publications.”
And unlike the The New York Times, the Post, and the Journal, the Free Beacon observes,
“Many of the newspapers [still] working with China Daily face severe financial problems. The Los Angeles Times furloughed workers last year as advertising revenue cratered during the coronavirus pandemic. Papers like the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe have failed to turn a profit for years.”
The nation’s news organizations have more than enough credibility problems these days (see, e.g., here and here). Severing all official ties with Chinese and other foreign government media, or at least making every effort to publicize them to their readers, could only help them regain some of that trust.