Could we not? On Tuesday, the union of journalists working at Il Sole 24 Ore – often likened to Italy’s Financial Times – issued a public communiqué criticising the publication of covert Chinese propaganda in Sunday’s paper.
- Similar incidents had already occurred, leading the editorial staff to call out the “aggravating recidivism” of the group’s advertising arm, 24 Ore System.
- After past protests, the editorial staff had been assured of advance notice of the publication to take action in good time. This commitment, however, “was obviously disregarded.”
The form… The communiqué referred to the four-page advertorial, titled “Focus China”, appearing as a legitimate-looking special. Its formatting and styling are “highly ambiguous,” stressed the journalists, as they do not clarify it’s actually paid advertising, nor do they clearly identify the client.
… and the contents. Those, according to the editorial staff, are “even more serious,” as they lavish praise on China’s economic health and detail why Italian investors should channel their money into it. Headlines range from “In 2022, China’s GDP hit a new record” to “Foreign companies are still betting on investment in China” and “China, a hotspot for foreign investment.”
- In short, note the journalists, it’s “pure propaganda to attract investment from Italy to China” – which “we find unspeakable, given that it puts the pages of the newspaper at the disposal of an economic system and a State (the permeability, if not the identity, between one and the other is absolute) that are characterised by the absence of the basic elements of a democracy.”
- “In other words, Il Sole 24 Ore has lent itself to beating the drum for a dictatorship, which in addition to the traditional absence of political pluralism, freedom of opinion and expression, and respect for minorities, is today increasingly entrenched in a pro-Putin foreign policy.”
Another charm offensive. The “Focus China” advertorial is the latest instance of Beijing’s efforts to influence the perception of Italians through the media. The People’s Republic, which was once granted wide access to the Italian media through Belt and Road-sanctioned deals, had switched tactics and is focussing on business to push its messaging.
- The Belt and Road Memorandum of Understanding is up for renewal in 2024. However, Giorgia Meloni’s government has signalled its intention to “move in concert” with the European Union and NATO on all matters regarding China.