Sat, Aug 10, 2019 - Page 3 News List

China using the media to ‘win hearts’

NEWSPAPERS INFILTRATED:A news manager said that stories were paid for by the Chinese government, while state security officials said it is a national security threat

By Lee Yi-mou and Cheng I-hwa  /  Reuters, TAIPEI

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, speaks during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Jan. 2.

Photo: Reuters

The articles on the Web site of a leading Taiwanese newspaper gushed about a new Chinese government program to attract Taiwanese entrepreneurs to China.

China “treated Taiwanese businessmen like its own people,” one of the articles said, citing “multiple perks.”

Far from being a threat to Taiwan, the program to give economic incentives to Taiwanese to start businesses in China was an “unprecedented” opportunity, it said.

While the articles were presented as straight news, they were actually paid for by the Chinese government, said a person with direct knowledge of the arrangement and internal documents from the Taipei-based newspaper.

The placement of the articles was part of a broader campaign by China to burnish its image in the Taiwanese media as part of efforts to win hearts and minds in Taiwan for China’s “unification” agenda.

Reuters has found evidence that Chinese authorities have paid at least five Taiwanese media groups for coverage in publications and on a television channel, according to interviews with 10 reporters and newsroom managers, as well as internal documents, including contracts signed by the Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), which is responsible for overseeing China’s policies toward Taiwan.

The efforts have been going on since Taiwan and China deepened their economic collaboration nearly a decade ago, but details like the financial arrangements of such partnerships had not previously been reported.

Reuters is withholding the name of the media groups at the request of the former and current employees who provided the documents.

The TAO paid 30,000 yuan (US$4,300) for the two feature stories about China’s efforts to attract Taiwanese businesspeople, according to a person familiar with the arrangements and internal documents from the newspaper.

“It felt like I was running propaganda and working for the Chinese government,” the person said.

The placement of news stories by companies and special interest groups is common in Taiwan.

However, the commissioning of such stories by China is potentially explosive in Taiwan, which has been increasingly sensitive about Beijing’s efforts to sway popular sentiment amid rising tensions across the Taiwan Strait.

While the TAO paid for most of the stories in the documents reviewed by Reuters, other Chinese government bodies also commissioned stories, three people with direct knowledge of the matter said.

One of the contracts was signed by a municipal government in southern China, they said.

One senior news manager said he handled stories paid for by the Chinese government at a major newspaper for several years.

He left the publication in 2016 and now works for a news organization affiliated with the central government.

“The money was mostly paid via the TAO,” the person said, adding that provincial or municipal governments across China also sponsored coverage.

The government said it was aware of the Chinese efforts and that such partnerships were subject to a fine of up to NT$500,000 for breaching regulations on Chinese advertisements.

“It is using our press freedom to harm press freedom,” Mainland Affairs Council Deputy Minister Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said.

“This is part of the mainland’s media war against Taiwan,” he said, vowing to strengthen laws to close what he called “loopholes” in Taiwan’s national security.

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