Editors of a student-run newspaper in an Australian university have been slammed for their decision to withdraw an article detailing two academics’ ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to supposedly “escalating Sinophobia” in society.
University of Sydney’s Honi Soit newspaper released a story on March 31 claiming two professors from its engineering department had ties to CCP recruitment programs and alleged that they collaborated with sanctioned Chinese universities on military technology research.
Just hours after publication, the editors decided to take down the story, saying they “unreservedly apologised” due to the harm it caused to the two mentioned academics, the Chinese community, and readers.
“Honi acknowledges that directly naming those academics was negligent, particularly in the face of escalating Sinophobia and racism at the University of Sydney and in wider society,” the editors wrote in a statement on Facebook.
“Moving forward, we will ensure that we are always critical of the sources on which we rely, and we recognise our duty as student journalists to actively combat Western imperialist and xenophobic biases presented in mainstream media,” they said.
Honi Soit editors told news.com.au the article was removed for the safety of the named academics.
“We maintain that nothing in the article was incorrect,” the editors said. “At no time were we pressured by the university, or other individuals or groups, including the Chinese Communist Party or its supporters, in this decision.”
The move was met with outspoken criticism from their readers, critics, and politicians alike.
Drew Pavlou, a human rights activist, slammed the decision, calling it a disgrace in a series of posts on Twitter.
“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 wrote. “Criticising academics for collaborating on MILITARY RESEARCH with a regime committing genocide as we speak has absolutely nothing to do with ‘Sinophobia.’”
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
Liberal Senator James Paterson told Sydney Morning Herald that the students editors were capitulating to the CCP tactic of “weaponising claims of racism to shut down legitimate scrutiny.”
“Of course, we should have zero tolerance for anti-Chinese racism,” Paterson said. “There is nothing racist about exposing the links between Australian academics and Chinese military universities and talent recruitment programs.”
“Australians who generously fund our universities have every right to know where their dollars are going.”
The detailed article was prefaced with America’s fight with CCP talent recruitment schemes, like the Thousand Talents Plan, in university campuses.
It then cited Alex Joske’s findings that 19 recruits from the University of Sydney had joined the scheme and declared the finding of two additional academics with “past or present links to talent recruitment schemes.”
The university failed to respond to the student journalist’s request for comments on whether the university was aware of their academics’ foreign ties and on the due diligence on their collaboration with sanctioned Chinese universities.
The author expressed his concern at the university’s lack of response, saying it contrasted to the University of New South Wales, which immediately denied staff involvement in talent recruitment programs when asked the same set of questions.