It’s bad enough with supposedly unbiased news outlets in the U.S. shill for one political ideology over another, but when an American newspaper becomes an advocate for a foreign rival, that’s over the line.
That’s the opinion, at least, of a number of journalists and media experts who are questioning the ethics – and legality – of the publication of what they call little more than Chinese propaganda by the Washington Post (WP), the paper that broke the Watergate scandal in 1974 that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
The paper’s China Watch publication, a print and online advertising supplement that purports to present news and information about the Asian economic giant, instead hosts a number of articles portraying the Chinese government favorably, especially in relation to its human rights record.
“Some journalism experts and China observers say the partnership crosses ethical boundaries and misleads unassuming readers about the Chinese government’s lackluster record on a host of important issues,” says a report about the dubious relationship in the Washington Free Beacon, an alternative D.C.- area online news publication.
Just another news site?
At first blush the online version of the site appears like any other news page, with stories, articles, videos and links to other news and information. It even features the Post’s masthead. But in the site’s right-hand corner there is a small block of text offering this disclaimer: “A Paid Supplement to The Washington Post.”
Because of that, some journalism experts and advocates believe the paper owes its readers an explanation about its relationship with Chinese media outlets that are heavily controlled and censored by communist government officials in Beijing.
“They need to address the proverbial elephant in the living room — why are you carrying a Communist government-sponsored publication?” Lois Boynton, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said.
“It raises some ethical issues for the Post,” she said, hammering the paper for obfuscating the origins of China Watch. “There are issues of transparency associated with” those initially publishing the content used by the Post in the section.
“The ‘about’ blurb doesn’t provide that detail. Although many people may know that China mainstream media is government-controlled, it may not be clear for all readers,” she told the Free Beacon.
Chinese government ‘propaganda’
Stephen Yates, a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, agreed.
“Readers go right through this section as if they’re moving through the hard news to the more in depth reporting, never realizing that they’re being inundated with Chinese government propaganda,” he said. “It doesn’t hit a person that they’ve arrived at an ad supplement filled with things that have passed Chinese Communist Party filters.”
The primary provider of content for the Post‘s “China Watch” section is China Daily, an English-language news site and service that toes the party line on major Chinese government policy issues. The Free Beacon said the site operates under a China-based domain, so anything it publishes is heavily regulated.
Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said he doesn’t have a problem with the relationship, as long as the content is marked as advertising.
“I don’t object to the Post selling advertising space to those who have different viewpoints than I do, as long as — as is the case here — the material is clearly labeled,” he told the Free Beacon.
“Anyone reading our editorials on China, human rights, the importance of democratic development in China both for Chinese people and for the world, will know that our point of view is quite different in many cases from that of the Chinese Foreign Ministry,” he said.
The paper’s communications director also defended its advertising policy.
“The section is clearly labeled as advertising so that our readers know it is not Washington Post news content,” said Kris Coratti. “As for what’s in the ads, we have always given advertisers wide latitude to have their say, whether the advertiser is a business, person, or a group. We have accepted the China Daily ads for many, many years under these standards.”
Other experts say the Post ad deal is just one cog in the Chinese government’s attempts to use propaganda to influence American leadership.
“There is a very well established pattern where Chinese entities exercise influence over American thought leaders,” Yates said. “And they’re publishing in what used to be seen as the paper of record in the nation’s capital.”
Sources for this article include: