Otago Daily Times Runs Paid Articles From Chinese Government

Otago Daily Times Runs Paid Articles From Chinese Government

Boomers hate China until there’s money involved

On July 28, the Otago Daily Times ran a sponsored article from a media outlet controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and have since published at least three more.

The original article, titled “Chinese-built modern railway leads to brighter future for Kenya,” has nothing to do with Otago. First published online, it was then printed as an advertorial the following week, on page six of the ODT in the “General and Dunedin” section. According to the ODT’s latest advertising ratecard, a one-third page colour advertisement like this would set you back at least $2,192.40, with additional charges for online content and sponsored articles.

The article claims that the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway has “injected renewed vitality into the local economy, and changed the life trajectory of ordinary Kenyans”. The $7.5 billion project, the most expensive ever built in Kenya, opened in 2017. Though popular with travellers, it has been dogged by claims of corruption, environmental damage, and adding to Kenya’s soaring national debt. 

In print, the article was clearly marked as an advertorial, but did not name an author or sponsor. However, online, the article was listed as being a sponsored article from People’s Daily. People’s Daily, or Renmin Ribao in Mandarin, is one of the largest newspapers in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Controlled by the CCP, People’s Daily call themselves “the most professional source of information on the [Chinese Communist] Party and disseminator of its standpoint,” saying that “reporting on General Secretary Xi Jinping and the promotion of Xi Jinping Thought… [are their] top political task and most important political responsibility.”

This does not appear to be a one-off. On August 9 and 10, the ODT had published at least three more sponsored articles from People’s Daily on their website: one about a new Chinese-funded vocational training centre in Ethiopia, one about China-Sweden relations and one about a medical worker in the remote province of Yunnan.

This is not the first time that newspapers have landed in hot water for publishing Chinese Government advertorials. In 2020, the Christchurch Star was criticised for running advertisements from the Chinese Consulate pushing the Chinese Government line on issues such as persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang (“counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation”), Hong Kong’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists (“plug[s] national security loopholes”) and Tibet (“transitioning from a backward theocracy to remarkable civility and progress”). The Star is owned by Allied Press, who also own the ODT. 

Allied Press did not respond to Critic Te Ārohi’s requests for comment. However, in 2020, the Star’s regional manager Steve McCaughan, told RNZ that “everybody has a right to advertise clearly in the market, as long as [Advertising Standards Authority] guidelines are met.”

To our knowledge, competitors Stuff and the New Zealand Herald have not published any similar advertisements from the Chinese Government. Neither responded to our requests for comment. A spokesperson for online media outlet The Spinoff told Critic Te Ārohi that “The Spinoff has not been contacted by the People's Daily, nor would we run any content or advertising associated with the People's Daily or other politically-motivated Chinese state agencies."

People’s Daily and the Chinese Consulate did not respond to our requests for comment, either. In 2020, a spokesperson for the Consulate-General told RNZ that the advertisements helped “local readers get more comprehensive and objective understanding of China,” adding that “[they are] all are based on facts.”

While English-language advertising is high-profile and often gains the most controversy, the primary focus of the Chinese Government’s overseas influence efforts is Chinese-language media. The vast majority of Chinese-language content online comes from tightly Government-controlled media outlets in the PRC, such as People’s Daily, China Central Television and the Xinhua news agency. In Aotearoa, a combination of advertising incentives and political pressure means almost every Chinese-language news site regularly publishes from these outlets, as well as self-censoring on “sensitive” issues. These articles are also primarily disseminated through Chinese social media platforms, like WeChat, QQ or Weibo, which are themselves actively censored. The most high-profile exception, the far-right Epoch Times, is controlled by the Falun Gong religious movement and is often seen as equally problematic. 

This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2022.
Posted 1:25pm Monday 15th August 2022 by Denzel Chung.