ABC operations in China

Last year the ABC launched a new website,, in association with the Chinese state-owned Shanghai Media Group.

In the lead up to its launch (including during the discussions about the future of the Australia Network), the ABC made much of the fact that it was the first mainstream western media organisation that would have a domestic China-based web presence.

The site, however, makes clear why the ABC got access, where other media organisations didn’t - it has essentially been willing to completely sell-out, making a website that includes business news, information about tourism, and learning English, bit with no general news coverage whatsoever.

I think this raises some very significant questions about the appropriateness of the ABC’s Chinese operations.

  • Domestically and internationally, the provision of reputable news and current affairs has always been central to the ABC’s operations. The ABC’s international broadcasting has traditionally sought to provide frank and fearless of coverage of issues that would otherwise be ignored in countries with oppressive governments. Is it appropriate that the ABC now seems willing effectively to drop all news coverage in order to get access to the Chinese market?

  • Given the decision to excise all news coverage from the site, what is the purpose of it? If it to build general goodwill towards Australia or promote tourism and trade, surely then it should be run by DFAT, Tourism Australia, and business groups rather than the ABC.

  • Is is appropriate for the ABC to be building relationships with Chinese state broadcasters? They have long been criticised for their lack of objective reportings. However, criticisms have increasing in recent times - rather than the media climate in China liberalising, it seems to be getting worse. Indeed, in recent months Chinese state media has paraded a series of humans rights activists, lawyers, and government critics making forced confessions, evidently in co-operation with state security services and with no due process or access to lawyers or consular assistance. Organisations, including Reporters without Borders, are now calling for western governments and media organisations to impose sanctions on Chinese state media.

DFAT funded Australia Network, which Abbott axed. AN was going to be expanded into China in 2014 - they had received permission and everything from the Communist Party. The only thing which stopped them was a short-sighted Abbott with his ideological wrecking ball.

The ABC’s current service is basically a placeholder. Should DFAT get permission to restore funding to Australia Network/ABC Asia Pacific, the ABC will: a) already have services existing to expand, and b) have something to give them the edge in a bidding process.

Exact same reasoning behind Sky’s Australia Channel bullshit.

The appropriateness of the ABC’s actions in this area have been getting some more attention over the last few days.

John Fitzgerald in the AFR:

It is another matter when national public institutions – like the billion dollar a year, taxpayer-funded ABC – endorse and encourage Beijing’s efforts to silence critical voices at home and abroad. Everyday compromises by our national institutions betray all Australians, not just Chinese Australians.

Through its agreement with the Shanghai Media Group, the ABC has offered tacit support for China’s repressive media strategy at home and abroad. The national broadcaster’s dealings with China signal to the world that our commitment to values and core interests is negotiable.

Read more:

The AFR also published another article on the issue:

The China Digital Times also cites both AFR reports and provides some background on Chinese attempts to influence reporting and policy in Australia:

The position of the ABC on this appears to be even more reprehensible than I first thought - not only have they produced a censored website to keep Beijing happy, they’ve also scrapped the existing Radio Australia Chinese language website that provided uncensored coverage. Effectively, they’ve co-operated with the Chinese regime’s attempts to shut down all critical coverage to Chinese-speaking audiences, whether in mainland China or abroad, in the hope of gaining greater market access within the PRC. What were they thinking?!?!?! How does this comply with the remit of the ABC or advance Australia’s national interests?

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This issue is now being noted in Hong Kong too.

Take Australia. So beholden has it become to Chinese investment and trade that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a public service broadcaster, has abandoned providing political news and current events on its Chinese-language website. The Chinese version of its Australis Plus website is now put out in China in conjunction with Shanghai Media and operates within the mainland firewall. In contrast, the website in other Asian languages carry the complete range of programming. There is a commercial reason behind this. The site can attract advertising revenue, helping the broadcaster’s squeezed budget. But the self-censorship makes a mockery of public service broadcasting.
It is doubly threatening at a time when public service broadcasters are badly needed to counteract the shallow reporting and name-calling commentary to which much of the Western media has been reduced, in response to falling revenues and the challenges of the even more superficial social media. Barely concealed advertorials masquerading as news and the franchising of familiar media names to companies with scant interest in standards of journalism open the way for media controlled by the mainland or by its overseas Chinese surrogates.