China · Information operations · Information Warfare

Fake news: Washington Post clone emerges in China

A screenshot taken from the Sun News – Washington Post website before it changed its design and removed the US newspaper’s masthead

By Lucy Hornby in Beijing and Matthew Garrahan in London

The masthead said Washington Post, the Chinese-language articles credited the Post’s reporters and the news of the day mirrored the selection on the US website.

The only problem? The Washington Post Chinese edition, which in a few months since launching has built up a loyal audience among Chinese readers eager for international coverage, was not run by the US newspaper.

The lookalike site illustrates the difficulties faced by foreign companies in China — particularly media groups, for whom the potential profits are matched by the complications of dealing with a Communist state.

“Every western media organisation that has tried to come to China has faced great difficulties,” said David Schlesinger, a media consultant and former Reuters editor-in-chief who helped launch the news agency’s Chinese-language content in the 1990s. “If you lose control over what your content actually is, then the effort to build a brand in China can come back to bite you.”

The Washington Post only became aware of its Chinese clone when contacted by the Financial Times. After the FT’s queries this month, the newspaper’s masthead disappeared from the Chinese site, which adopted a new layout that no longer evoked that of the US publication.

In a country known for fake goods, fake GDP data and even a fake Goldman Sachs, the Chinese site at least had a contract to syndicate real Washington Post content. But the Chinese translations of the Post’s stories were mixed with articles on foreign policy and other topics from China’s state-run Xinhua news agency — and they, too, were labelled as Washington Post copy.

“Sun News is a client of The Washington Post News Service, which allows them to republish a number of Washington Post stories,” said Kris Coratti, a spokesperson for the US newspaper. “However, our agreement does not allow them to use our brand in the way they did. We believe this is a simple misunderstanding about the contract and we are working with them to correct it.”

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