A state-run Chinese newspaper used a daily paper here to put forward its view of significant diplomatic dispute this week. Was it easy to get the other side of the story?
Last Tuesday, readers of Dominion Post received a copy of a supplement prepared by China Daily – a state-run English language newspaper in the People’s Republic of China.
China Watch was a mix of China-New Zealand trade boosterism - with John Key and Chinese president Xi Jinping on the front page above an article extolling the history of free trade between the two countries -and tourism promotion, with a photo centre spread.
The back page was a Chinese-centric take on international affairs, filled by an article under the headline:
Manila has no leg to stand on.
The article outlined the Chinese government’s position on the Philippines' decision to seek arbitration in its dispute with China over the South China Sea.
It took the form of a statement: "Why The Philippines’ unilateral initiation of the arbitration case violates international law" - followed by this answer:
Pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept) is a basic principle of international law
The article went on to outline China’s objections to the Philippines decision to seek arbitration and argued the Philippines was destabilising the region.
It’s an important diplomatic issue and you would not expect a supplement arranged by a country involved in such a dispute to provide a truly balanced account. And Dominion Post wanted readers to know it was merely distributing China Watch.
"This supplement, prepared by China Daily, did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Dominion Post," said a message on the cover of China Watch.
Above that, on the China Watch masthead, was the slogan: "All you need to know".
But where could readers of the supplement get another side of the story?
A full picture?
A quick search of Fairfax media’s Stuff website found the most recent article on the dispute was published two years ago.
There was a listing for a talk in Wellington in September last year by Justice Antonio Carpio, a senior member of the Philippine Supreme Court who has been arguing his country’s case in the dispute around the world.
Justice Antonio’s visit to New Zealand went entirely unreported not just by Dominion Post and Stuff but the entire New Zealand media.
Perhaps it’s no wonder the People’s Republic of China has taken to paying to have supplements included in our daily newspapers.