But at what cost…: Western (Im)partial Media
In the West, we used to watch news, listen to the radio and read papers secure in the knowledge that what we were hearing and reading was either truthful, well researched, or unbiased so we could form our own opinions. That was many years ago, and, looking back, we were probably wrong but not to the extent that our opinions were invalid or we had been misled. Instead, it was really a case of: if you follow this line of politics, you should read this paper and watch that TV show because it’s slanted your way, if you lean the other way, in a political sense, you read a different paper and your reports were equally truthful, but aimed at your leanings — it was all pretty harmless, and, although it was biased, it wasn’t misinformation.
Not so today, everything has changed. We can’t pick up a news report without seeing misinformation, we’ve even got to the stage where current affairs shows are able to say whatever they like because courts have judged them to be entertainment not news How can reasonable people inform themselves about what’s going on and establish veracity when even the legal system declares that the very people informing us are in fact, not to be taken seriously? This speaks volumes for the quality of the news reports we should be able to trust.
China is in an ever changing and ever improving situation. Improving in terms of lifestyle, infrastructure, personal safety and rule of law. Improvements in communications, transportation, healthcare, education and, in fact, in every measurable metric there are improvements. Violent crime such as murder, robbery and rape are virtually non-existent, the global pandemic has been, and continues to be well-managed and, according to Harvard University, the government has a (still increasing) popularity rate of over 95%. Yet, every time we open a news report on China from the USA, or Australia we see horror stories on how dystopian, autocratic, authoritarian, totalitarian or despotic China is. Strangely, when we look out of the window or walk through the local parks (there are many of them), go to shopping malls, cinemas or anywhere at all, we see nothing of the sort.
In the last 12 months, despite some covid restrictions, this writer has been in Shenzhen, Dongguan, Guangzhou, Foshan, Yunfu and Zhuhai — all cities in Guangdong — and has travelled to the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (three times). Once on a bike for 7 weeks travelling through many villages, towns and cities. Once on a bus across some of the smoothest and fastest roads in Asia, the last time, on a high-speed train, staying a few days and then flying to Chengdu in Sichuan. After some time in the capital city, moving to three other cities, two by high-speed train, one by car before returning via another province, Guizhou, on the high-speed train again. Looking around, talking to people, everyone is happier than they used to be. So, it’s everywhere, people all around China think it’s a great place. How is it then that the media reports China so differently?
One reason might be that the US government has allocated $300 million each year for the next 5 years, a total of $1.5 billion, not for articles on China, but for only negative articles on China. It’s going to be very hard for newspapers, already struggling with dwindling advertising revenue, readership diminishing and serious credibility problems to ignore this lucrative and easily picked-up revenue stream. It’s not that journalists and editors can’t write positive articles, they can. However, they’ll get paid more if they write them with a negative connotation. Hence, we see so many headlines ending with the words: “…but at what cost?”
Another more insidious reason may be something else entirely. Something very strange is going on with Australian media. A government funded advisory body has entered the media arena with its own form of news, much of it focused on China. Strangely, despite having been set up by the government and paid for out of taxpayer’s funds, this “think tank”, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), also collects quite a lot in foreign funds for its services.
Recently, we’ve seen Australia make some very unusual decisions based on information provided by ASPI. They’ve invested billions in weapons systems to protect themselves… from China. They are investing almost 100 billion to obtain American submarines which are far over specified for defensively patrolling Australian waters. They’re embroiled in a trade dispute and they’ve commenced a diplomatic war of words over the origins of Covid.
What makes these decisions unusual is that, the place where most of Australia’s tourists and international students come from is China, the place where most exports go to and most imports come from, is China!
Why would they do this? Because they were advised to. But when we look at the source of their advice it raises some interesting questions. Much of their advice comes from ASPI. Some of ASPI’s funding includes payments amounting to several million dollars from the same place that’s selling the nuclear submarines: the US Government. The same government paying 1.5 billion dollars for negative reporting on China. Some also comes from the weapons manufacturers that are earning billions by selling weapon systems to Australia to defend themselves from their largest trading partner. Both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have multi-million-dollar deals with the Australian government who, for the purchase of some new rockets will engage in billions of dollars. and both, along with the US government and the Australian government, are major funders of this institution. If readers can’t see a conflict of interest there, it would be hard to see one anywhere.
But the issues don’t stop there. This gets even more perplexing when we look into how the government, which should be influenced by the people, are in fact, through ASPI, their paid advisors, informing the people.
ASPI has its own publication, it’s called the Strategist and, in fairness, they don’t pretend it isn’t theirs. What they do claim, however, is that it’s a bi-partisan publication. What’s more intriguing is the staffing. Many people write for the Strategist but according to ASPI’s website not so many people work on it. The Editor Jack Norton is a former employee of Murdoch’s Sky News, he’s also a former Australian Parliamentary correspondent.
The Executive Editor and Defence Editor is also a former Newscorp employee and Canberra Press gallery journalist with many years-experience, including over 20 years in the Canberra press gallery.
Nothing unusual about this. Except that the Australian government founded and funds ASPI, which now has a media outlet, and the Australian public, is partly paying for it through taxes. They deserve to know, if it’s independent or not and they need to know how heavily influenced it is by its two most senior staff being formerly employed in the Press Gallery, working for an American citizen who also happens to own a significant portion of Australia’s TV, the lion’s share of Australian print and internet media and has a well-documented dislike of China, Rupert Murdoch.
Notwithstanding the Strategist, which is owned and published by ASPI, there are some other serious concerns about who provides ASPI’s information to the public:
Listed as an ASPI Senior Fellow on their advertising, Stan Grant is hugely influential and a media household name. His affiliation with ASPI is documented in his Bio but never mentioned when he hosts his TV shows. This is particularly important as his position is that of “International Strategic Analyst” for the Australian state broadcaster, the ABC. Whilst this information isn’t secret, it’s quite difficult to find; it doesn’t appear on the ASPI “Our People” page nor in a search on ASPI’s website.
Furthermore, one of Australia’s widest-circulated newspapers is the Newscorp owned, “The Australian”. As the only newspaper in the entire country to be considered a national newspaper, its readers could expect to have unbiased and informative reporting but once again we have one of their best-known, journalists, Will Glasgow, employed by both this organisation that receives funding from the Australian government, US government and much of the armaments industry, still employed by Murdoch’s Newscorp.
It seems that connections between the Australian Government, Australia’s State Media, Murdoch’s Newscorp and ASPI are becoming so nebulous it’s hard to know who’s working with whom. It’s also a very worrying development that our supposedly unbiased news, in many cases, comes from writers and presenters working for, or with, organisations with funding from a government that pays for negative information on China and weapons manufacturers who profit massively from fear of China.
Apparently, despite recognition that there is only one China, these publications would like us to believe there’s another one, not the China that sees incredible growth in infrastructure and improvements in GDP leading to lifestyle style improvements for everyone it cooperates with; another which some of these individuals, government departments and media outlets would like us to be afraid of.
Cooperation with China builds trade, encourages tourism and makes money for Australians. Fear of China, on the other hand, sells international weaponry and submarines that cost Australians a lot. They are however, extremely profitable for some: but at what cost…?