When Xinhua news agency wanted to upgrade from its old office in New York, it sought out a space that matched its ambitions.
So it leased the top floor of a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, one with commanding views of the headquarters for Thomson Reuters, the News Corp, the New York Times and other leading news organizations that have offices nearby.
Last week in its own official account of the “opening ceremony” — this was no mere relocation, it was an arrival — the agency said that its location gave it “a spectacular spot in this center stage of world-class media.”
Xinhua proudly paraded curious reporters, most of them Chinese, through its new North American headquarters, regaling them with facts that illustrated its reach.
The agency has been reporting from New York for 40 years and now employs 41 people in the city. In North America, it has have bureaus in Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver, to name a few.
A slideshow playing on a large screen mounted on the wall of the airy office reception area ticked off milestones. 1971: UN bureau opens. 1985: Cairo and Mexico City. 2004: Brussels.
“It’s just like Thomson Reuters or Bloomberg,” said the tour guide, Ariel Lei Yang, Xinhua’s director for television operation.
Except that Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg do not answer to the Chinese Communist Party.
Xinhua is trying to convince the world that it is more than a propaganda arm of the Chinese government, but it is finding that message a tough sell.
Taking questions from reporters, Xinhua’s vice president Zhou Xisheng (周錫生) was asked twice whether the news agency could ever be objective as an arm of the government.
“I believe there is some misunderstanding,” Zhou said, delivering such a lengthy answer that his English-speaking interpreter was unable to keep up.
“Of course we will need to report what’s happening and give it our own explanation. I don’t think that’s propaganda,” he said.
“If you find in our reporting mistakes such as saying white is black, then you have the right to criticize us. I think our reporting is really reliable,” he added.