Thursday, 7 November 2019

When It Comes to China, Do Canadians Believe the Media?

The Media blitz

Since I first published a post ( 10 Dec 2018) on Canada's arrest of the Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, I have been baffled, awestruck and frustrated by the refusal of Canadian media to question the legitimacy of her arrest and extradition.  Since I began the process of my own modest online inquiries, I have noticed that the National Post, the newspaper founded by Conrad Black before he went to prison (he has since been pardoned by President Trump), has published some of the most strident anti-China editorials.  Although, Black sold the paper to one-time Liberal Izzy Asper, in recent years "the Post has retained a conservative editorial stance."

What does "freedom of the press" mean?

Obviously every newspaper in the "free" world is owned by somebody. Does it matter who owns a newspaper or a media company?  I don't know.  I've never worked for a newspaper.  I'm not particularly courageous or selfless, so I imagine that if I worked for a large media company I would be reluctant to risk my job, my salary, my social position and connections by publishing anything that I knew ran seriously counter to the interests and ideology of my top-of-the-pyramid employer.  I find it discouraging that Robert Maxwell "who embezzled hundreds of millions of pounds from his companies' pension funds" also controlled hundreds of newspapers. (His daughter, Ghislaine Maxwell,  is in the news with claims that she was sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein's madame, supplying him with juvenile prostitutes.) It is hardly encouraging that Robert Maxwell's nemesis, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, "faced allegations that his companies, including the News of the World, owned by News Corporation, had been regularly hacking the phones of celebrities, royalty, and public citizens. Murdoch faced police and government investigations into bribery and corruption by the British government and FBI investigations in the U.S."

Does it matter that the Globe and Mail is wholly owned by The Woodbridge Company which is the private holding company of the Thomson family?

Is Reuters covering the story, or is Reuters the story?

As your typical diffident Canadian, I have long been aware but not terribly disturbed by the fact that our news comes to us through channels that usually have owners.  As a Canadian I think that we have CBC News and are therefore immune from tampering.  However, this seemingly innocuous article disturbed me: "New documents link Huawei to suspected front companies in Iran, Syria."

Why is it disturbing? If you followed the link, you will realize that it is presented under the banner CBC News.  However, this is not by any stretch of imagination CBC News.  As the small print and the content of the article make clear this is a publication of Thomson Reuters, the news agency owned by The Woodbridge Company of which the Thomson family are the principal shareholders.  Reuters is categorical that "Our correspondents do not use unconfirmed reports as the basis of a story, nor do they offer subjective opinion."  Nonetheless, readers need to be alert to the fact that what appears to be the research and writing of journalists from our national public broadcaster is, in fact, the work of un-named authors working for a private company principally owned by a single family.

Reading the article you will quickly discover that Reuters isn't just reporting the story, they are the story.
 . . . corporate filings and other documents found by Reuters in Iran and Syria show that Huawei, the world's largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, is more closely linked to both firms than previously known.
Reuters have actively been building a case which might ultimately be used against Meng.  As they report, somewhat proudly:
Articles published by Reuters in 2012 and in 2013 here about Huawei, Skycom and Meng figure prominently in the U.S. case against her. 

Does Thomson Reuters have skin in the Meng-Huawei game?

Under "normal" circumstances, we would praise journalists for the hard slogging, investigative journalism required to unearth evidence.  However, in this case, we don't know who the authors are.  We are encouraged to believe that this "news" comes from the CBC, but obviously no CBC journalists were involved.

Does Thomson Reuters have any skin in this game?  Is it reasonable to ask this question?  I ask the question quite naively, but the result is surprising.  Thomson Reuters has gone through significant restructuring this year.  (I own 16 shares of Thomson Reuters stock by the way.) In its Annual Report for 2018, Thomson Reuters announced "In October, we sold 55% of our Financial & Risk (F&R) business to private equity funds managed by Blackstone for approximately $17 billion and retained a 45% interest in the new company, which is now known as Refinitiv."

Refinitiv, as its website displays, is collaborating on China's "Belt and Road Initiative" (aka "The New Silk Road") which the company describes as "The Infrastructure Project of the Century."  Thomson Reuters is now invested in China.  Will we begin to see a softening of positions and warming toward China in the Globe and Mail and Reuters' reports?  On November 4, Reuters still appeared to be maintaining a negative slant on China, but on November 5, along with everyone else, they reported on the front page of the Globe and Mail print edition that China had lifted its ban on Canadian beef and pork.

[This link (above) is to the "Global News" website.  Since I'm on the theme, I checked to see "who owns Global News?"  It's owned by Corus, which is controlled by the Shaw family.  Wherever you get your news in Canada, there is likely to be a family at the top of the pyramid.]

Same numbers different story

Reuters published this article 4 Nov 2019:  "Less than a third of Canadians view China favorably -poll."  Considering the media coverage, I think the real and surprising news is that 29% of Canadians continue to view China favourably. Reading this "Less that a third" headline, I was reminded of living in Quebec during the referendum years.  I can vividly recall standing at the counter of my local depanneur (corner store).  Glancing down to my right I saw the bold, front-page headline of the Montreal Gazette: "One Third of Anglos Determined to Leave an Independent Quebec."  Looking to my left, the front-page headline of the French-language La Presse read "Two Thirds of Anglos Happy to Remain in an Independent Quebec"  [my translation from memory]. Same numbers different stories.

Summarizing a UBC survey, Reuters reported:
“The chill is real,” concluded the survey. China is now viewed favorably by 29% of Canadians, down from 36% two years ago but up from 22% in February, it concluded.

"Canadian Public Attitudes on China and Canada-China Relations"

"The chill is real" is a direct quotation from the UBC report, but the sentence appears on page 2, and is not a conclusion to the report as a whole.  "The chill" refers only to the drop of 7% from the previous survey two years ago.  Oddly, survey numbers indicate that attitudes toward China have warmed by 7% since February.  In the face of a Canadian media blitz condemning China for the arrest of two Canadians, and numerous reports on the threat China poses to Canada, it is astounding that one third of Canadians continue to view China positively.  (Keep in mind, that one third is almost as many Canadians as voted for the re-elected Liberal Party in the recent election.)

Survey says . . . 

The results are even more surprising, given the tenor of the survey as a whole which includes questions about human rights in China, references to Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and a substantial listing of all the reasons a Canadian might perceive China negatively.  A frankly amazing statistic (again given media coverage) is presented in the conclusion of the report:

A plurality (39%) of respondents felt arresting Meng was a mistake, and a plurality (35%) feel she should be released before judicial proceedings complete.

Consider:  if "arresting Meng was a mistake" were a political party, it would have formed a majority government in the October 2019 election.  Despite our politicians and our journalists, Canadians are impressive.  Being "wary of China while supporting continuing contact" and releasing Meng--all make perfect sense.

Is Canada’s Print Media Fair on China?


Influential, misinformed Canadian media hurts China-Canada relations: envoy



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