The editors of a well-known student-run newspaper at an Australian university in Sydney faced criticism for their decision to censor an article published by its journalists that detailed the controversial links of two academics at the university to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
As reported by Australian media, the editors of the university newspaper Honi Soit were heavily criticized after being accused of bowing to pressure from the CCP. They removed an article alleging strong links between two engineering professors at the University of Sydney with the CCP’s recruitment programs and Chinese universities sanctioned for their military technology research.
Just a few hours after publishing the story, the editors decided to withdraw it, apologizing “unreservedly” for the harm caused to the two academics mentioned, the Chinese community and the readers.
The apology statement argues that the decision was made in part because the article could encourage the escalation of “Sinophobia” that prevails in the region.
“We recognize our duty as student journalists to actively combat Western imperialist and xenophobic biases presented in mainstream media,” the statement reads.
However, neither the statement nor anyone else stated that the serious allegations reported in the newspaper published on March 31 were untrue.
The move met with open criticism from readers, critics, and politicians. Drew Pavlou, a well-known human rights activist, condemned the publisher’s decision, calling it shameful in a series of posts on Twitter.
It is a disgrace to see Honi Soit pulling important journalism on University of Sydney academics breaching China sanctions. This was possibly the strongest piece of student investigative journalism this country has seen in years, and they threw their journalists under the bus.
— Drew Pavlou 柏乐志 (@DrewPavlou) April 1, 2021
“It is a disgrace to see Honi Soit pulling important journalism on University of Sydney academics breaching China sanctions. This was possibly the strongest piece of student investigative journalism this country has seen in years, and they threw their journalists under the bus.”
Pavlou goes on to argue that talking about “Sinophobia” as the editors did to defend their position has nothing to do with the situation and seems to be a mere cover “to defend a regime that absolutely brutalizes even people of color.”
In the same vein, Liberal Senator James Paterson told the Sydney Morning Herald that the student editors were giving in to the CCP’s tactic of “making an argument about racism to silence legitimate outrage.”
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge joined in the criticism and attacked the University of Sydney’s student newspaper for withdrawing the report of CCP-linked academics, saying the move highlights the importance of protecting academic freedom and free speech on campus.
The Australian government joins countries that have raised concerns about the CCP’s interference in universities and intellectual property theft under talent recruitment schemes.