The smart way to stop subsidising hateful Chinese propaganda would be to stop subsidising international films

While the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights Commission are examining  whether New Zealand laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech (whatever that might be), taxpayers are helping to finance  Chinese propaganda.

Hateful propaganda, we suggest.

The Screen Production Grant has handed a $243,000 subsidy to a propaganda film produced by Chinese state-owned enterprises.  

The film’s tagline (reportedly) is ‘Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated.’

One of Sir Peter Jacksons companies is credited (or discredited) with being a beneficiary of the funding, which has been channelled through the Film Commission.

News of this shameful use of public money did not come to us through the Point of Order Trough Monitor, which is triggered by distributions proudly announced by Ministers of the Crown.

And we confess to missing it when it was reported yesterday in an admirable piece of Stuff reportage.   

No, we were alerted by a condemnatory press response to the news from the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union:

Responding to news that the Screen Production Grant handed a $243,000 subsidy to a propaganda film produced by Chinese state-owned enterprises, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union Executive Director Louis Houlbrooke says:

“Taxpayers have all been made complicit in the promotion of violent Chinese nationalism. This is sickening news, especially as we observe the Chinese state suppressing protests in Hong Kong.”

“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund political propaganda of any kind. This case is an extreme example, but it’s another argument against our government’s programme of corporate welfare for the film industry.”

Seizing on the tagline (‘Anyone who offends China, no matter how remote, must be exterminated’), Houlbrooke contends:

“If that isn’t hate speech, I don’t know what is. Jacinda Ardern, as Minister of Arts, Culture, and Heritage, should issue a ‘please explain’ to the Film Commission. Those Chinese dissidents who chose to live in New Zealand to escape state-funded incitements to violence deserve an explanation, if not an apology.”

The report at Stuff, by Thomas Coughlan, is headed Chinese propaganda films are being made in New Zealand at taxpayer expense.

Fair to say, Coughlan is relying on information from Anne-Marie Brady, Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who has written extensively on China’s alleged influence and interference efforts in New Zealand. He notes:

The strong allegations made against the Chinese film industry’s activities in New Zealand are made in forthcoming research from China expert Professor Anne-Marie Brady.

In it, she says growing cooperation between the Chinese and New Zealand film industries, combined with New Zealand’s screen production grant, means “taxpayers are now subsidising China’s propaganda films”.

Her concerns aren’t just confined to Chinese films — she said the growing ties could have a chilling effect on New Zealand’s own cinematic output.

The movie which we taxpayers are subsidising is titled Wolf Warrior 2.  Coughlan describes it as a militaristic Chinese propaganda film, partly made in New Zealand.

The film qualified for the Government’s screen production grant, allowing it to receive a cool $243,000 taxpayer-funded rebate on the $1.2 million the film’s producers spent on Kiwi shores. 

That money was spent at Park Road Post, one of Peter Jackson’s film companies, which would not comment on this story.    

The film was not made directly by the Chinese Government, but by a slew of Chinese state-owned enterprises, Coughlan reports.  Among these is the China Film Group Corporation, China’s largest film producer, and Bona Films.

Bona Films is a subsidiary of China Poly Group, another state-owned enterprise. China Poly Group is an unusual conglomerate housing the world’s third largest art auction house and a real estate business, and has “longstanding ties to the military and the family of the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping,” according to The New York Times

The New Zealand Initiative’s chief economist,  get around this if we are going to have an international film subsidy regime.

Like, maybe you could imagine some vetting to make sure we’re not subsidising the production of propaganda films … for authoritarian governments.

But can you imagine the diplomatic mess where an arm of the NZ government tells film companies linked to the Chinese military and linked to the high echelons of the Chinese Communist Party folks that the NZ government considers their film to be authoritarian propaganda?

Crampton does have an answer – let’s not have international film subsidies.

He proceeds to debunk the several arguments which favour these subsidies.  

His debunking extends to the argument that we have to keep subsidising the film industry because so many people now work in that industry… he refers readers to his column in our Insights newsletter earlier this year:


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