Friday, 16 November 2012

Mystery Reporter of Shi Ba Da

Andrea Yu became a rising star in the media pack... but why?
At the closing of the 18th National Party Congress, the foreign media were buzzing about a young Caucasian woman who somehow was allowed to ask senior Chinese officials questions, when other foreign outlets were shut out.

Her name is Andrea Yu (recently married, her maiden name Hodgkinson) and about a month ago parachuted into journalism to report on the congress.

Covering historical events like this is not for amateurs, but Yu managed to snag credentials to cover the event without much journalism experience either, though she did speak fluent Putonghua.

She claims she works for Global CAMG Media International, which was founded in Melbourne in 2009 but also has an office in Jianguomen Wai, near the Great Hall of the People.

This company is a joint venture between China Radio International and a mainland immigrant called Tommy Jiang. He has helped the Chinese government in its soft power campaign by practically monopolizing the Australian media market when it comes to Chinese media, making it difficult for ethnic Chinese find alternative media sources.

In any event, she made foreign journalists jealous of her being chosen to ask questions, but then annoyed by her softball questions.

They included: "The Australian government has recently released an important white paper on Australia's relations with Asia in the 21st century. It discusses Australia's relations with Asia over the next 25 years, particularly Australia's relations with China. Mr Zhang, please tell us what policies and plans the Chinese government will be implementing in cooperation with Australia. Xiexie, thank you... I'll translate for myself."

And this other gem of a question: "Melbourne and Tianjin are sister cities -- can you outline some of the ways that cultural exchanges can be increased?"

Usually these kinds of questions come from Chinese journalists that are handpicked beforehand with scripted questions.

And so Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Stephen McDonnell took it upon himself to get to the heart of Yu's modus operandi.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Is it a little disingenuous for you to be up here I suppose with the appearance of being an independent international journalist when really you're working for a Chinese company?

ANDREA YU: Yes, that's a good question. It is interesting, and a lot of people have asked me about that. The fact is, I chose to be employed by them, and I'm representing their company. So when I ask questions in press conferences and anything like that, I'm representing the company as well as representing Australia.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: The company though, it's controlled from Beijing, right?

ANDREA YU: Ah, well we do have a head office in Melbourne, so…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: The majority shareholding is from Beijing - that's right, isn't it?

ANDREA YU: Ah, yes, yes that's true.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: And is that from the Chinese government, Chinese government companies?

ANDREA YU: We have a partnership with CRI, Chinese Radio International, which does have a fairly large connection to the government, yes.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Because I mean you could say that it's as if the Chinese government has brought you up here as a sort of friendly journalist to essentially ask itself questions that it likes about its own performance.

ANDREA YU: Yes, you could say that, but you could only say that if you knew who my company was and we are fairly, I would say, not very well-known at this stage.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Here's the Chinese government, they're inviting someone up here - they know that you're working essentially for them, and you're coming up here and asking them questions about their own performance. Isn't that right?

ANDREA YU: I really don't know if I can answer that question accurately, the way you're wanting me to answer it. I know you're looking for a certain answer here, but…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: I'm not looking for a certain answer, I'm looking for your answer.

ANDREA YU: No, my answer is that I think it's a very large system and I honestly don't believe that people within the Chinese government knew beforehand who I am and who I'm working for.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: They didn't know that you're essentially working for them?


STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Would it be an accurate parallel to say - for example, if the Australian government set up a company in China to feed stories into Chinese radio programs and then in the middle of the election in Australia, invited someone that they're essentially employing back to Australia to ask the Australian Prime Minister how well she's managing the China-Australia relationship - would that be an accurate parallel to what you're doing?

ANDREA YU: I don't know, because the Australian government is very different to the Chinese government. I don't think it's appropriate to make a direct comparison there, so…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: But is it real journalism, what you're doing?

ANDREA YU: Um, I've only just started. I'm very new to this, so I'm learning as I go.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: So you're not quite sure if it is?

ANDREA YU: Ah, no, I would call it - I wouldn't call it hard news, I wouldn't call it that, OK, I'm not going to be kidding myself there, but I'm very glad for the opportunity that I've had to come here and learn what I have.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: You don't feel though, potentially, that you're being used by the Chinese government to show that there's something going on that really isn't happening?

ANDREA YU: It's something that I think a lot of foreigners have to think about when they come here. It's also very difficult because…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: But what do you think about it though? Do you feel that you're being used in that way?

ANDREA YU: Well, it's been a bit difficult because there are layers. When I first entered my company, there's only a certain amount of understanding I have about its connections to the government. I didn't know it had any, for example.

So I find out more and more as time goes on. It's quite difficult as a foreigner, when you first, at least for me in the last month, to know exactly because you get told things not all at the beginning, so that side of it is challenging.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Well maybe I could ask you this way - it's not a coincidence that they keep choosing you to ask questions at the press conferences, is it.

ANDREA YU: I don't think I would say that it's not a coincidence because they had already asked me the previous day.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Because they know they're going to get an easy question from you, though, don't they?

ANDREA YU: I think that's part of it, yes.

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: So in the long run, do you think that this will be more the way things will happen, that the Chinese government will be having sort of set up companies like yours all over the world to present itself in the way it wants to?

Andrea Yu (nee Hodgkinson) is a cover girl
ANDREA YU: It's a very hard question and I don't know how long I'll be doing this for because of that. Yes, that it is a very challenging question. I think certainly spreading Chinese government soft power around the world via avenues like this is very important to the government and…

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: And that's essentially what your company's doing, is that right?

ANDREA YU: Well, you see it's very difficult for me to say, because I'm still - I've been with my company for about a month, OK, so it's quite difficult for me to know exactly how things work. But I am aware that I can't ask the hard questions that I may personally be interested in asking because of who I'm representing.

So there you have it, folks. Is Yu the new face of state media reporting?

Seems like she's already become a star, gracing the cover of this magazine...

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