True story. Really.

This a true story about a contrived story – unlike my previous post, which was a fake story concerning a fake municipal by-law regarding real people carrying genuine coffee cups.

You may have seen this true story while reading the many online rehashes from the likes of the Huffington Post, for instance, or watching CNN on the television. It’s the story of a western journalist in Beijing covering the story of Chinese dissident Xu Zhiyong on trial in a courthouse somewhere in the vast metropolis of China’s capital city.

CNN reporter David McKenzie and his cameraman attempted to shoot video of the outside of the courthouse. As the camera rolled they purposely passed what seemed to be a group of uniformed and plain clothed security personnel on the street. They were confronted, blocked from advancing, physically moved, and forcibly driven a few blocks away. It is unknown whether they tipped the driver.

Seemingly unhurt, they decried harassment.

Now, remember McKenzie has been a correspondent for CNN International in Beijing for a year now. You would think by now he would understand he should not gather a group of journalists and disrupt order in a public place in Beijing.

Xu is the founder of the New Citizens Movement. Charged with “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place” for protests he organized, Xu faces five years in jail. If convicted. He most certainly will be.

The Chinese have a different way of looking at “freedom”, “public places” and the words “I’m allowed to report here” uttered by foreign journalists. Certainly, from our perspective of freedom, it’s troublesome that Xu cannot publicly show his displeasure with high ranking officials or government policies. It is also troublesome that journalists are harassed while in the process of doing their jobs.

But to purposely attempt to bypass and ignore a level of security set up outside the courthouse as McKenzie did and pass that off as an example of the typical repression and censorship within China is simply spurious. And, in my opinion, premeditatedly contrived.

“This really shows how much China wants to manage the message,” McKenzie is quoted as saying.

No, this really shows how security in China works. Just because your idea of where you can report from is 100 meters away from where the Chinese security believes it should be does not make them wrong. Or censors.

Blocking the transmission of your reports across the air – now that’s censorship. But that’s not the issue here.

I would implore other CNN reporters to ignore American police or security boundaries set up at courthouses or other government sites in the US with the “this is a public space” or “I’m a journalist reporting…….” justification. I’m pretty sure if they tried that in the US – say, passing the barricades set up by Boston police during the manhunt following the Marathon bombings – a little pushing and shoving and a nice little drive a few blocks away would be the least of their problems.

Firearms, pepper spray and tasers is how security works in the US.

Did anyone actually have the foresight to ask, either before, during or afterward, from where they could setup and report without being threatened with physical harm? Does McKenzie and his cameraman or CNN employ a Chinese-speaking person to help translate and communicate? I know how hard it is to communicate in Chinese when I need to ask which bus to take to get somewhere – never mind discussing issues of journalists’ rights and public access while bent over and having my thumb meet my forearm.
But yes, as a journalist friend of mine points out: that’s a two way street, too. “It behooves security forces of any nationality not to get drawn into staged and needlessly confrontational exchanges when there is a news camera around,” she pointed out.

BBC reporter Martin Patience was also physically escorted down the sidewalk from where he and his cameraman were reporting. Patience, aptly named, was calm and, without too much protesting, willingly moved to where he was directed by plain clothed Chinese authorities. They were not manhandled or had their camera broken or driven a number of blocks away to be dropped off at a street corner like an unwanted litter of newborn kittens.

Sure, there are issues with censorship and repression in China, and we all would like to see things change for the better. But, please, in the future, do not try to feign repression and censorship under the guise of an innocent journalist working within a “free press” in a Socialist country like China because that’s the only story you can get. As my journalist friend says it’s always problematic when journalists make themselves the story.
It’s not very good 关系.

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