They also run nationalist pieces asserting Australian media is biased against China and sometimes brand stories critical of the Chinese community as “fake news”.
In one example, New Impression called reporting by Nine News, the ABC and the Herald on conflicts in Australia between pro and anti-Hong Kong democracy protesters as “extremely distorted”.
It said an ABC report that said “death threats” which had been plastered on top of an otherwise pro-Hong Kong democracy poster wall was “deliberately exaggerated” because the threatening posts, which used memes, had been taken out of context.
One Chinese student who worked at a Chinese-language outlet said like any publication they picked stories to appeal to their readers and sometimes used clickbait headlines.
“They don’t really mean what they say,” the student said. “They want to attract Chinese students.”
But she said the vast majority of stories are not political and help Chinese students adjust to life in Australia. “When I arrived here I didn’t know about the ABC or The Sydney Morning Herald so we just follow on WeChat official accounts about Australia,” the student said.
A survey of 522 Mandarin speakers in Australia last year found about half followed outlets like Sydney Today and New Impression. About 60 per cent of respondents said WeChat was their primary source of news. Only one in five said they regularly read legacy media outlets, Australian or Chinese.
But trust in new Chinese media outlets vary. The student who worked for one said readers “definitely” trusted them, especially when they could verify the information with other outlets.
Another Chinese student at the University of Sydney said she had no faith in Sydney Today.
“They have misguided so many people in the Chinese community and I feel like they don’t have a moral principle and understanding that they are the leading Chinese media in Sydney,” she said.
University of Sydney Professor Nick Enfield, a media researcher, stressed there was diversity between Chinese-language media outlets, but said social media made it easy for people to rely on publications whose perspective aligned with theirs.
“Once you get people who get into those bubbles that social media can help to create, then it becomes harder for them to be exposed to alternative sources of news,” Professor Enfield said.
And he said linguistic clues – like whether characters were written in simplified or traditional Chinese – helped to distinguish between Chinese media outlets established by different waves of immigrants from different places.
UTS media and cultural studies Professor Wanning Sun, who conducted the WeChat news research with a colleague, declined to comment but previously wrote that Australian media and politicians are doing a poor job of engaging on the platform.
“The Australian government – and individual politicians, for that matter – would pass up a particularly valuable resource if they did not find effective and imaginative ways to exploit this platform,” she wrote.
Sydney Today and New Impression were contacted for comment.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.