Most Australians pay little attention to Chinese language media in Australia. Therefore, they do not recognise the extent to which coverage of issues relating to China differs from that in the mainstream Australian media.
The Australian Government allows the content of the Chinese language media in Australia to be heavily influenced and increasingly controlled by agencies of the People's Republic of China (PRC). In turn this enables a foreign government to shape the outlook of Chinese language media consumers in Australia on global issues and, particularly, those relating to the PRC. As China's role in global affairs increases, the scope of issues on which the PRC has an interest will only grow.
As discussed at the recent National Meeting of China Matters, sourcing deals between Australian Chinese language media and PRC state-run agencies determine much of the content to which Chinese language media consumers are exposed.
Austar International Media Group is one of the major Chinese language media groups in Australia with eight newspapers and a number of radio stations across the country. It holds a sourcing agreement with China Radio International (CRI), which is an affiliate of the PRC Central Propaganda Department. Content that is provided by CRI to Austar International radio stations and newspapers closely reflects material used by Chinese state media. This means coverage of issues relating to China is often slanted in a positive light and controversial issues are ignored. Material from outlets disfavoured by the PRC such as the BBC World Service is not used. This underlines John Fitzgerald's observation that Leninist propaganda systems are often more notable for what is not said than for what is.
The influence of journalists from mainland China on Australian Government funded Chinese language programs from SBS and the ABC has increased in recent years. Sources close to SBS Mandarin Radio say it has increased the number of journalists on its staff who have previously worked for Chinese state media, and coverage of issues deemed controversial by the PRC, such as visits by the Dalai Lama, have been reduced and the angle of coverage shifted. Other sectors of the Australian Chinese community with backgrounds in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Malaysia are also receiving less focus.
The net effect of this increasing control by the PRC over Australia's Chinese language media is that Chinese speakers in Australia — be they Australian citizens or temporary residents such as students — hear few competing perspectives. As I have pointed out in The Sydney Morning Herald, the PRC's influence over Chinese students has additional significance given many students have little engagement with broader Australian society.
The PRC itself would never contemplate allowing this level of influence in its own media. Australia's Chinese language media needs greater attention from the Australian Government and regulators.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Guyler.