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Time Magazine Takes Chinese Cash To Promote Controversial Drone Business

Iconic mag fails to properly disclose $700k from China

Screenshot / Time
• June 1, 2021 5:00 am

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As part of a $700,000 advertising campaign, Time magazine published articles from a Chinese state-run media agency touting a controversial Chinese drone maker accused of helping the government surveil Uyghurs and boosting the Chinese Communist Party’s latest five-year economic plan.

Time has published 75 online articles from China Daily as part of the lucrative ad deal, which began late last year. The Time webpage discloses that the company is paid to publish the China Daily articles, though not that they are state-sponsored propaganda.

The Justice Department requires China Daily to disclose its media activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act due to its affiliation with the People’s Republic of China. The news agency paid millions of dollars for advertising and printing over the past six months to American newspapers and magazines, including Time, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Foreign Policy magazine.

The partnerships provide a window into the tactics the Chinese Communist Party uses to influence international audiences, and the revelation is likely to fuel concerns about an arrangement in which American news outlets peddle Chinese propaganda. The Jamestown Foundation, a pro-democracy think tank, has questioned whether American news outlets will tone down negative coverage of China because of the advertising partnerships.

While most of the China Daily content is not political in nature, some of the articles appear to be thinly veiled attempts to portray the Chinese government and companies in a positive light.

The China Daily article about drones appeared just after the Trump administration blacklisted DJI, China’s largest drone maker, citing concerns that Chinese intelligence could use the drones to collect data on American citizens. The Chinese government has allegedly used DJI drones to surveil Uyghur Muslims, millions of whom are held in detention camps in the Xinjiang region. Under Chinese law, companies are required to comply with data requests from the government.

The article highlights uses for DJI drones other than surveillance of Uyghurs. It notes that DJI has sold 40,000 drones for agricultural work over the past year and that the company is "helping farmers improve efficiency and increase the use of intelligent agricultural equipment."

China Daily published the article on its own website on Dec. 25, a week after the Trump administration put DJI on a blacklist.

Time’s first China Daily placement was an article championing the Chinese Communist Party’s recent five-year plan. The article blamed the United States for "escalating" tensions with China by threatening to ban WeChat and TikTok, two phone apps that U.S. officials believe have ties to Chinese intelligence.

The last article published by Time is a China Daily story from April 26 in which retired diplomat Chas Freeman marvels at China’s economic progress in the 50 years since he worked as Richard Nixon’s interpreter during the president’s 1972 visit. Freeman is affiliated with the isolationist Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a controversial think tank whose scholars have defended China from claims that it is committing genocide against Uyghurs.

The article is a prime example of the kind of content that China Daily places in American media outlets. Several articles quote prominent Americans calling for closer cooperation between Washington and Beijing, praising China, or criticizing the U.S. government.

The Wall Street Journal, which partnered with China Daily until last year, published an interview in which Neil Bush, the brother of former president George W. Bush, criticized U.S. tariffs against China. He also accused President Trump of hijacking the Republican party.

Unlike Time, the Journal discloses on its website that the People’s Republic of China controls China Daily.

Time’s partnership comes as the magazine faces steep declines in print subscriptions. With 75 articles published online so far, the magazine averages around $9,300 per China Daily story.

Time inked the deal with China Daily even as other prominent news organizations have cut ties with the propaganda mill. The Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all ended their partnerships with China Daily last year. The Times said that it ended the partnership due to concerns about working with state-run media outlets.

Time did not respond to questions about whether it harbors similar concerns.