NGO coalition calls on Belgian newspaper Le Soir to stop publishing Chinese propaganda articles

Brussels, January 24, 2019 – The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), la Ligue des droits Humains, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisations (UNPO), the World Uyghur Congress and the Tibetan Community of Belgium addressed a letter[1] to Director general and editing director Oliver De Raeymaeker today, urging him to stop publishing articles from official Chinese press bodies in his newspaper.

It is essential that media in democratic countries refuse to spread propaganda from authoritarian states guilty of blatant, serious and repeated human rights violations such as China,” said Vincent Metten, EU Policy Director at the Brussels office of the International Campaign for Tibet. “If Le Soir wishes to continue producing quality journalism and to maintain its credibility and legitimacy as an independent media, it must cease publishing articles from Xinhua soon as possible.”

The letter follows the publication by Le Soir of a double page from Xinhua entitled “Focus Belgique-Chine” in its 29 November 2018 edition,[2] including articles lauding President Xi Jinping’s policy, texts praising the prosperity and the harmonious development of China, or points of views of Belgian personalities in line with Beijing’s official propaganda.

In 2018, two Berlin-based research institutes published a substantive report on the growing Chinese influence in Europe, which explains that these publications by Le Soir and other newspapers serve two main objectives: to expose the reader to the official Chinese point of view by giving the impression that they are normal editorial content, and to create dependencies and potential influence leverage on editorial decisions. [3]

It is not the first time that Le Soir publishes articles from an official press body of the Chinese government. On February 27, 2018 for example, the newspaper had published a similar double page produced by the China Daily,[4] which contained an article by the Antwerp province Ms. Cathy Berx, who claimed: “It is very clear that the (Chinese) President is looking for answers to the growing aspirations of the people for more democracy, justice and security and genuine rule of law.” Yet, reports from many NGOs deplore a degradation of human rights in China, in Tibet or in Xinjiang since Xi Jinping came to power. Chinese state media are moreover used as repression tools by Beijing; some of them have for instance been involved in the blackmailing of human rights activists, bloggers, book and journalists, aimed at extracting confessions and publicly humiliating them.

International Campaign for Tibet had already called out to Le Soir’s Director General on this matter in a letter sent to him on March 16, 2018 urging him to put an end to these publications and offering to open an exchange with Le Soir’s directors, but the letter remained unanswered. In addition, the organisation has just filed a complaint to the Belgian Council of journalistic ethics, requesting its opinion on such practices.

The publication of Chinese propaganda articles in foreign media started in the United States in 1992, before spreading to Europe some twenty years later. Several newspapers worldwide today circulate articles from Xinhua or the China Daily, such as The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom, Le Figaro in France, El Pais in Spain… In Germany, the Süddeutsche Zeitung seems to have backed out and does not publish supplements of the China Daily entitled “China Watch” anymore – in part as a result of pressure from the International Campaign for Tibet’s Berlin office. It is to be hoped that Le Soir will follow this example and similarly give up on these publications.

 

Point of contact:

Vincent Metten
EU Policy Director
International Campaign for Tibet
15, rue de la linière, 1060 Brussels
Mobile: +32 473 99 04 40
vincent.metten@savetibet.eu

Footnotes:

[1] An English translation of the letter is available at http://www.tibetpolicy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019.01.24-Lettre-conjointe-dONG-au-Soir-concernant-linsertion-de-supplément-de-Xinhua-EN-translation.pdf
[2] http://www.tibetpolicy.eu/wp-content/uploads/Focus-Belgique-Chine-29-novembre-2018.png
[3] Authoritarian Advance, Responding to China’s Growing Political Influence in Europe, GPPI and MERICS, February 2018, https://www.merics.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/GPPi_MERICS_Authoritarian_Advance_2018_1.pdf
[4] http://www.tibetpolicy.eu/wp-content/uploads/Focus-Belgique-Chine-27-fevrier-2018.pdf