A letter making claims of widespread censorship amongst Chinese-language media in New Zealand is understood to have been looked at by police investigating the still-unresolved burglaries of professor Anne-Marie Brady.

Days before the University of Canterbury professor and China researcher's home and office were burgled in February, she received the anonymous letter that also included specific claims made about coverage in the Chinese New Zealand Herald (CHNZ).

The letter claimed coverage of sensitive subjects — specifically the furore around the Chinese military-intelligence background of National Party list MP Jian Yang — was directed to cease in late 2017.

CHNZ managing director Lili Wang rejected the allegations. She described them as "baseless".

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The CHNZ is a joint online-only joint venture established in 2016 between the Chinese Herald, a newspaper owned by Auckland businesswoman Wang, and NZME, the publisher of the Herald.

According to Google searches, CHNZ's last coverage of the Jian Yang affair was a translation of a Herald story published on October 30, 2017. Subsequent Herald coverage of the subject, and its reporting of the Brady break-in investigation, has not been republished by CHNZ since.

A statement from Kenny Lyu, chief editor of the CHNZ, said the website's lack of coverage of the Brady affair was "justifiable given there are ongoing investigations conducted by NZ Police".

An NZME spokesperson said decisions on editorial content were made by CHNZ. The joint-venture board had recently given senior Herald editorial staff the right to direct certain stories be translated and published prominently if they were deemed important for the audience.

Brady said she had been told by officers in the ongoing investigation — involving police, the NZSIS and Interpol — that claims being made in the letter were being looked at.

"The police have taken a very close interest in the letter," she said.

"The letter provides [claims] of the Chinese government's political interference in New Zealand politics. And the contents and significance of the letter helps explain why the harassment and intimidation against me is being treated as a matter of national security, and not a routine police investigation," she said.

Police, asked specifically about the claims made in the letter about Wang and the CHNZ, would not comment about the direction their 11-month-and-counting investigation was taking.

"Police maintains a strong interest in Brady's case and investigative processes are ongoing. The length of time being taken reflects the steps which have been taken by police. We will not however discuss specifics regarding the investigation," a police spokesperson said.

Early this month Wang — after repeated requests for an interview — provided a written response to questions.

She said she had not been contacted by police or other authorities in connection with the Brady investigation, claimed editorial decisions were delegated to her news team, and firmly denied the allegations in the letter.

"I am disappointed with the baseless accusations made against me and my business," she said.

Kenny Lyu said NZME had raised the issue of accurate translations in early 2018, and been answered with a commitment to "fully and accurately translate NZ Herald articles without question should they enter the news pool".

Tony Ye, the editor-in-chief of the CHNZ in November 2017, declined to address allegations made in the letter or the website's coverage during his tenure.

"I can't talk about that," Ye said, before hanging up.

A number of editors in Chinese-language media in New Zealand said self-censorship was par for the course.

Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 2014 visit to New Zealand. Photo / Greg Bowker
Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 2014 visit to New Zealand. Photo / Greg Bowker

One described the regime for local media as "invisible", with editors anticipating what subjects — such as about the banned-in-China Falun Gong movement, and more recently political criticism of Huawei as an espionage risk — would concern authorities in Beijing.

"There are no clear printed guidelines, it's more self-censorship."

Another said while he had been summoned to the Chinese consulate in Auckland for meetings to discuss "problematic" coverage, the censorship regime has more recently been enforced through WeChat, a social media platform which has more dominance in the Chinese-language market than Facebook does in English.

WeChat is reported to operate an extensive censorship regime - particularly for users inside China - with blocks put on posts and links to stories featuring topics and words deemed problematic by Beijing.

Avoiding these blocks is difficult, one editor said, and finding out what actually was banned was a matter of trial and error.

Repeated blocked articles could have severe consequences for a publication, the editor said, and all publishers sought to avoid this.

"If you keep persisting, if you keep challenging them - they might cancel your account. It's the environment we work in, and you have to survive."

The Herald understands traffic from WeChat accounts for half of all online visitors to the CHNZ, and 30 per cent of traffic to rival Chinese-language publisher Skykiwi.

Questions sent to the Chinese embassy in Wellington about its claimed censorship of New Zealand Chinese-language news outlets went unanswered.