International news agencies covering China are losing their integrity, according to journalist Michael Forsythe.
Before a crowd of nearly 75, Forsythe, a correspondent for The New York Times and former China-based reporter and editor for Bloomberg News, said Chinese politics and money are impacting major news organizations in a way that often compromises the integrity of international reporting. The reporter gained attention last year when Bloomberg did not publish an investigative article by Forsythe because of fears that the agency would be expelled from China. Forsythe left Bloomberg as a result. In the Wednesday afternoon talk, Forsythe claimed that the Chinese government can effectively prevent news organizations from publishing controversial articles by exerting financial power, restricting journalists’ work visas and blocking their websites.
“In the Chinese gilded age, money talks and morals walk,” he said.
Forsythe added that because large corporations with economic interests in China own many major news organizations, press coverage is vulnerable to external influence. He described how Bloomberg News, his prior employer, refused to publish an article on the wealth of a particular Chinese political family because they were afraid of losing press and visa privileges in the country.
Forsythe said this experience indicated larger problems with freedom of the press. If foreign news agencies are unable to expose corruption within China for fear of retribution, no one will, Forsythe added.
He referenced how business tycoons with ties to Beijing have taken control of several previously independent Hong Kong newspapers.
“Freedom of the press is under assault in Hong Kong,” he said. “Those who want to protect independent voices are marginalized.”
Forsythe referenced a paper called the “Apple Daily,” which lost two major advertisers — both of which were large British banks — due to alleged pressure from the Chinese central government.
In response to questions about whether Western countries exerted the same level of influence over journalists, Forsythe strongly disagreed, arguing that Western political leaders would be exposed by the media if they behaved like their Chinese counterparts. He added that Chinese politicians are often much wealthier than those in the West.
Students and faculty interviewed said that Forsythe clearly articulated the accumulation of money in Chinese politics and its implications for independent journalism.
“The most interesting part of Forsythe’s talk was the idea that no leaders of other countries have amassed as comparably large a fortune as those in China,” history professor Valerie Hansen said.
Christina Wong ’16 said Forsythe aptly characterized China’s immense economic power to be both its offense and defense.
She also applauded Forsythe’s focus on Hong Kong and the importance of preserving civil liberties.
“As we are ever aware that, given China’s huge influence among the business and political elite of Hong Kong, our freedoms could be taken away from us,” Wong said.
Forsythe was visiting as a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale.