At first glance, Las Vegas Public Radio (LVPR) looks like any other local FM radio station. It has local community sponsors, vaguely right-wing talk show hosts, and a website begging for a makeover. But there's a disclaimer on the bottom of that website noting that, contrary to the name, the station is not an NPR affiliate.
That disclaimer makes no mention of the fact that LVPR, the self-proclaimed "People's Voice of Las Vegas," is registered to lobby for Huawei Technologies, a Chinese company widely considered a national security threat to the United States.
Funded in part by Nevada taxpayers, according to its founder, LVPR has also developed close ties with Chinese officials and, under the guise of a local American radio station, it has become a voice for a Chinese technology giant that the Trump administration and other national security experts have identified as a threat to the global communications network. Federal disclosures show that the station is registered to lobby for Huawei and, in that capacity, has scheduled programming to push back against mounting concerns that the company could serve as a conduit for Chinese espionage if it builds the 5G network in the United States.
"We'll tell the American people that Huawei is being f---ed in America by politicians," LVPR founder and president Gregory LaPorta told the Washington Free Beacon. "They are no different from Qualcomm and Google … [Huawei] wants a place in the world like anyone else."
As the United States and China engage in a global messaging battle over the origins and spread of the coronavirus, the strange story of how the Chinese government has leveraged the small radio station underscores the heterodox techniques Beijing is using to broadcast their message to Americans.
The station’s existence has already sown confusion. LVPR lists several major wire services such as the Associated Press as its "affiliates" on its website. One of the wire services listed, the federally funded international broadcaster Voice of America, told the Free Beacon that the radio station is not an affiliate. The AP did not respond to a request for comment about its relationship with the station.
LVPR, which ostensibly serves the local Las Vegas community, has also hammered out a plan to open an office in China to promote ties between Las Vegas and the communist regime, according to lobbying disclosure forms, which state that LaPorta is developing a plan for "a specialized pilot project located in a select Chinese city to make the American Public Broadcasting System readily available in China."
In his 2013 application for a broadcasting license, LaPorta highlighted his past experience promoting "Las Vegas community business and tourism in China" to the Federal Communications Commission.
Since its 2016 launch, the station has employed two Chinese nationals as "international liaisons." One of the two, Hung Mui Amy Chim, has since been promoted to director of programming. The other is a pathologist based in a Shenzhen hospital, who Laporta said offers overseas "contacts" for the station. LVPR has also hired DaHung Law Office, a law firm that traces its origins to the Chinese government, as part of its legal team.
LVPR’s relationship with China does not appear to have been a financial boon for the fledgling station, which has been dogged by financial difficulties since its founding. Lobbying disclosure forms report that the station has received less than $5,000 each quarter for its work and in the 2019 fiscal year, the station reported $81,000 in revenue and $240,000 in expenditures, according to state filings.
LaPorta blamed the station's rocky finances on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a government-backed entity that offers grants to public broadcasters. LaPorta said the CPB's refusal to offer financial support for his station has forced him to seek revenue elsewhere, including China.
"This is why we're going out of the country. Our own f---ing country has let us down," LaPorta said. "They don't want to support us? F--- them."
As part of its corporate citizenship, LVPR says on its website the company is committed to "respecting human rights and avoiding complicity in any human rights abuse."
But the station has been a reliable source of pro-China messaging, including on human rights issues. In January, for example, LaPorta conducted an interview with the China’s San Francisco-based consul general, Dongua Wang, who used the opportunity to slam the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, accusing them of "violent criminal acts."
LaPorta did not push back. "They were causing damage," he said. "They were causing damages by businesses and throwing stuff in business windows. I think though that's criminal, isn't it?"
Over the past decade, China has aggressively targeted the United States with propaganda and misinformation. Chinese officials have used social media and text messages to spread alarming but fake coronavirus rumors that the Trump administration will deploy troops to lockdown the entire country. And leading American media outlets continue to receive millions from Chinese propaganda outlets to publish hundreds of advertisements designed to look like news stories, some of which promoted half-truths about China's pandemic response. But China's decision to cultivate ties with a local community radio station, located more than 6,200 miles away from Beijing, is an example of how far-reaching the influence of China can be.
LaPorta told the Free Beacon that he started courting Huawei, the controversial tech giant that helped China build the surveillance state in Xinjiang, to "help pay the bills." On Dec. 31, 2018, the LVPR Twitter account wrote that the radio station was "bringing Huawei to America." LaPorta refused to discuss details about the New Year’s Eve broadcast—which was not archived—saying that what the station publicly broadcast to nearly 500,000 Nevadans that day was "privileged information."
The lobbying disclosure notes that LVPR will create programming to "address concerns … about Huawei products/services being developed or manufactured in the US for US consumption." LaPorta maintained that he himself registered as a lobbyist as a precautionary measure and that he has done no lobbying for the company since 2018.
LVPR's plan to expand into China got official backing from the Chinese government in October 2019, when LaPorta visited Beijing to meet with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to discuss plans to establish an "independent public broadcasting facility." The Chinese office will will help promote interest in Las Vegas tourism in China, according to a press release from the station, and LaPorta said that his overseas office will "give them the truth" about corruption in China.
"We're not going to be a fake news agency," he said.
He dismissed concerns about China's routine suppression of the freedom of the press, and expressed no qualms working with the Chinese government, given what he saw as the corrupt nature of the American government.
"The United States has probably more sins than the Chinese," he said. "America, we're the most corrupt nation on Earth, probably, at this point."
Editor's Note: This report was updated at 7:37 a.m.