G20 summits are a busy time for scholars of global economic governance. There is a surprisingly small pool of us around the world who look at these issues day in, day out, and there are literally thousands of journalists whose minds are either turning to the G20 for the first time, or for the first time since the last summit. Hangzhou was more anticipated than most, and so there was a larger-than-normal list of international and domestic media sources I spoke to in the weeks leading up to the summit.
This is a generally positive thing for a think-tanker. Public commentary is a necessary part of our job. In a country like Australia, with the Westminster system of government, there is a barrier between public policy experts within bureaucracies, and the media. Think tanks fill an important gap in the public communication of difficult concepts.
Having our ideas and opinions shared through respected news services provides us with tangible evidence that we are reaching a large number of people. So it would have normally been great to discover earlier this week there was an article published in the China Daily titled 'Agenda of Positive Change', complete with my photo and a byline at the end. After all, this was the busiest day of the summit, and important real estate in the paper.
There was only one problem: I didn't write the piece. You can imagine my complete surprise when a colleague approached me on the morning of 5 September and casually remarked, 'nice article in today's paper'. [fold]
What transpired was that around two weeks ago I had a phone call with a journalist from the China Daily. I was asked some set questions that I was told were being posed to other scholars, and we then had a reasonably wide-ranging discussion on the G20 and China's role in it. It was on the record, and I was even given an opportunity to confirm the quotes via email afterwards.
I was under the impression that my contribution would have been cited as a Q&A before the summit, and that it would be clear which parts were the reporter's questions and which parts were my answers.
The next I knew of it was when I saw 'my' published opinion piece, with the flow of thoughts rearranged (and ironically printed adjacent to an actual Q&A with CIGI's Barry Carin). While I would endorse most of the article's content, there were two small subtleties (as always with this kind of thing, context is important).
The first was at the end of the article, where I appear to claim that China has invited the largest number of developing countries ever to attend G20 activities, and that I endorse this move. In reality, my view is that the number of representatives around the table should be kept to a minimum to facilitate consensus.
Second, the article failed to quote an important point. When asked whether I thought the Hangzhou summit could help find new sources of growth to push for a new round of prosperity for the world economy, I specifically commented that the key question was how much the summit will be used as a platform to demonstrate China's leadership on the world stage. This never appeared in the article.
To its credit, China Daily have removed the electronic version of the article from its website in response to Lowy Institute complaints, and I have received an apology from both the newspaper and the reporter involved. However, this does not change the hard copy published on 5 September. It would be appreciated if the newspaper publishes this Interpreter post to clarify.
I am certainly not the first scholar (even from the Lowy Institute) to whom this has happened. Rory Medcalf went through a similar experience with the Global Times in 2012. But there remains something unsettling about a process that can lead to putting words in a foreign academic's mouth.
I fully endorse the sentiments that Rory expressed in 2012, that Chinese newspapers should reach out to international audiences and devote space for foreign commentators to communicate in their own words. It is important for China to engage with the world, and for the world to engage with China. But that doesn't mitigate China Daily's inability in this instance to meet basic journalistic standards.