Stephen McDonnell Gave Andrea Yu, Star Bilingual “Reporter,” A Firsthand Lesson In Journalism, And It’s Not Pretty

Yesterday, while writing about an Australian reporter who had become somewhat of a Chinese Internet star because of her Mandarin-speaking ability, I was most struck by something she said in English. At a press conference inside the Great Hall of the People, she mentioned she was representing “Global CAMG Media International.” I googled that phrase and found no results on the first page. The closest match was “CAMH,” which is completely different. That should’ve sent up a red flag, instead of a yellow one. But this was still the early stages of the story, and the news seemed to be the question itself, not the identity of the questioner, so I went ahead with the post.

Well, one short day later, the focus is now squarely on the questioner. Her name is Andrea Yu, and it turns out she’s far from a journalist. She was first tracked down by China Real Time Report, to whom she admitted that she gets called on at press conferences because “they know my questions are safe.” Hmm. If your eyebrows aren’t yet raised, please turn your attention to her second interview, with Stephen McDonnell of Australia Broadcasting Corporation (via Shanghaiist), who cut her a lot less slack. Ms. Yu, meet a journalist:

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: 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: 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?

This goes on for a little while, and her answers don’t get much better, nor do McDonnell’s questions get easier. What we have here, in Yu, is a mercenary who embarrassed the wrong profession. It’s one thing for a Chinese company to hire a “white face” to do quality control in a factory out in the boonies, where no one will ask questions. It’s another for the Chinese government to employ a “white face” to lob softball questions at powerful people who deserve to be held to account. Political reporters — particularly foreign correspondents — are too cynical, too bitter, and too intolerant of bullshit to give fraudsters like Yu a free pass, and if they can’t ask questions of Chinese politicians, they’ll find other outlets for their withering inquiries. So it is that Ms. Yu, who by all accounts seems like a decent individual, had to be dragged through the grinder.

You know what, though? With all the publicity that CAMG has gotten, googling “CAMG Media International” now actually turns up a result. Its main office is at Jianguomen Wai, just down the street from the Great Hall of the People. Here’s its website, and the About section:

CAMG is a media star emerging out of Oceania, implementing media and cultural projects covering the entire Asia -Pacific region.

CAMG’s main area of development is the integration of media resources in Asia and Oceania, producing high-quality content for audiences of different countries in line with the local audience listening habits and tastes

Since their establishment in Melbourne, Australia on September 12, 2009, CAMG Media Group has been committed to building a cross-cultural bridge between nations and encouraging international trade. CAMG’s mission with their partners is to develop effective ways to facilitate cross-cultural exchange and to build well-known media brands.

After more than 2 years of development, CAMG Pty., Ltd. has built a strong international team of media professionals, using the most advanced and up to date hardware and facilities. Currently, the company has subsidiaries registered in New Zealand, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Nepal, as well as in a number of other countries.

These last two years of excellent growth are only just the beginning. CAMG is continuing to grow and step-by-step is building a world-class media brand.

UPDATE, 11/15, 12:26 am: Just saw that Eric Fish of Sinostand wrote about this too. I offer it here, including the following excerpt, as a counterweight to my sentiments.

Some of my experiences and those of several acquaintances at Chinese companies (not just media) were just like this. It’s not as if you’re told up front what your real job and unethical responsibilities will be. It comes in ways that aren’t immediately obvious and in steps so small that it’s easy to descend into something you’d never intended. What seem like opportunities (ie – covering the biggest political event in China) are in fact situations where you’re being exploited. By the time you look around and realize what you’re doing, you’re in too deep and it’s hard to climb back out without seriously disrupting your life.

16 Responses to “Stephen McDonnell Gave Andrea Yu, Star Bilingual “Reporter,” A Firsthand Lesson In Journalism, And It’s Not Pretty”

  1. James Griffiths

    I feel bad for the girl. I didn’t go as hard on her in my original post because I could easily imagine being in her position. Getting onto the media career ladder isn’t easy these days, and if someone offers you a ‘journalism’ job you leap at it, especially one as high-profile as ‘reporting’ from the 18th Party Congress.

    I get the feeling that Andrea Yu is in waaay over her head, and shouldn’t be blamed for simply doing her job. The people at fault are the company that was hired to provide a white journalist/plant and the CPC propagandists that are so terrified of their precious little cadres having to answer a remotely difficult question that they only call on journalists who will toe the line.

    Reply
    • The Tao

      I dunno, you’re assuming she (or her company) wasn’t in cahoots with the media relations officers to begin with. And she is, after all, in the big leagues, where everything is deservedly amplified, including criticism. If she cares about the profession at all though, she’ll come out of this stronger and will be just fine.

      Reply
  2. Hong Konger

    Sorry, guys. But you have more sympathy than I do.
    There are only two possibilities here
    * She clearly knew she was being planted as a fake reporter
    * She is really not smart.
    And I’m going to give her this: I don’t think she’s this stupid.
    Even giving her the benefit of the doubt: She’s inexperienced and her company didn’t brief her. Come on. Who stands up in front of all the TV cameras at a huge press conference, during a major political event in China, is clearly the only foreigner being called on while major media are passed over, recites pre-written pre-vetted questions, and has absolutely no idea that she might be being used.
    Maybe she’s not exactly an expert in journalist ethics. Maybe she didn’t expect to be questioned so aggressively about it. But she clearly calculated that whatever she was getting out of it — money, job, prominence — was worth doing something less than honest.
    You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that the news is manufactured in China. And she was happy to benefit from this “manufacturing”.
    I can’t imagine she cares for the profession. If she did, she would have declined, or she would have used that opportunity to actually ask a real question.
    Will she “be just fine”? Who knows? Maybe she will find great fame in mainland state media as the Mandarin-speaking foreigner who is willing to lob softball questions at press conferences. Maybe she’ll make it in another profession.
    But if she wants to succeed in real journalism? She’s just turned herself into an international laughingstock.

    Reply
    • ni hao

      “You don’t have to be a political scientist to know that the news is manufactured in China.”
      You are manufactured to have that idea. I can say this because I think I’m a little more qualified than you to comment on Chinese media. You think the CCP have all the time in the world to pick out this one good looking white female to ask questions? I do think though the question she asked was not revelenat, but does that make her a bad person? Yes she might be a bad journalist, but would you give up a chance like that if you were in her shoes? “Hey, Hong Konger, whatever your profession is, you have a chance to perform.” “Oh yeah sure.” I don’t think you will say “oh well, I don’t think I deserve this chance.” You think the CCP just goes around to ask for international celebrities to model for their image? Yes, but they do not care who you are. What real questions could you have asked? Why can’t you operate within the system and still be great like Mo Yan? And no, I’m not entirely supporting the system of China, I do think many falurs and errors are there. But critcism of a amateur reporter isn’t going to help. Thought she fucked herself over in that interview.

      Reply
      • Dingles

        When someone claims they are a little more qualified to comment on Chinese media than others, it’s usually useful to present those qualifications to back up said claim. Although, spelling relevant as “revelenat” and faults (or failures) as “falurs” grossly undermines your claim. That, combined with your poorly worded examples simply highlights your inability to grasp the criticisms from a western lens. Or perhaps you work for the Global Times, or another Chinese run English news source, which would explain just about everything you wrote.

        Reply
        • ni hao

          Yes, I’m not a native english speaker, and I apologize for not checking the errors before I posted. Also, you are right about the fact that I don’t look at things from a western lens, because I don’t think it is the best view. I try to find a balance. I said I am a little more qualified because I worked with people who are in high positions within Chinese media, such as CCTV news, and others. Again, sorry for the grammar and spelling errors. Being too emotional on the internet is never a good thing. Let me gather myself and say that, Andrea was just a poster girl and it could have been anyone. My point is, state news (the big ones) are in China are just as fake as Fox News, and I guess I’m trying to defend Andrea because although she’s not a good reporter, she shouldn’t be criticized for simply “not being true to herself.”

          Reply
          • Hong Konger

            I am a Hong Kong journalist with many friends at state-run media, though I would never work in mainland media myself.
            I am not Western, nor does one have to be to see that what Andrea did was vastly dishonest.
            And, more importantly, that this incidence shows how very dishonest the majority of state media is.

            Don’t know what FOX has to do with this, except that it’s the typical 50-cent argument to throw in some irrelevant bit of criticism of someone else to change the subject.
            First, for all of FOX’s faults, I’ve never heard of them planting a fake reporter in the White House.
            Second, even if they did, that still doesn’t make this right.

            And, yes. This was clearly planned by the government. Maybe not the top tier. But the propaganda officials had to step in to make sure that she was accredited (falsely), to pre-vet the questions (which she admits to), to make sure she sat in the exact right seat, and to make sure the MC called on her four times.

  3. Liz

    Personally, I feel like the really newsworthy thing here is that Beijing is using media organizations abroad in a soft power play. We can only speculate about Andrea’s motives, but the amount of money and effort required from the Chinese government to set up a system like this is no mistake. That said, we have all come to expect this sort of thing from China. Releasing a story every day about how news is manufactured, money is used to skew coverage, etc…becomes repetitive. It just gives you a lot of built up anxiety, disappointment, and anger (really, a grab bag of bad feelings) that unusual incidents cause you to release. That’s why netizens human flesh search individual corrupt officials with a ton of watches, or hate Fang Binxing so much. In truth, they’re (corrupt) humans with serious failings, but they are symptomatic of larger problems that people feel powerless to address.

    In my opinion, it would behoove us to hold our governing bodies and institutions to the highest standards, because they exercise power over our lives. We should be sympathetic to individuals, though, because people are human.

    Reply
  4. Michael Woodhead

    Feel some sympathy for Andrea Yu (I worked for China Daily once upon a time), but this is a worrying sign of things to come. China is hiring non-Chinese reporters at a time when hundreds of journalists are being made redundant in western countries. It’s not just China doing this – I’m seeing a lot of former journalist colleagues moving into PR and “sponsored” media roles for corporations and agencies.

    Reply
  5. KopyKatKiller

    Another step towards world media domination?

    Anyway, I think it’s funny because anyone worth their weight in salt knows the CCP is a bunch of lying scumbag Chinese. Such ‘measures’ as duping doe eyed Western chicks into thinking they are anything but CCP shills will only come back to bite them in the ass. I’m sure that for every one of the ‘newly converted’ to the CCP cult, there’ll be at least a half dozen or more who take it upon themselves to expose what a bunch of evil bastards China has running the circus. BeijingCream is already proof of that.

    Reply
  6. foolin

    Fooling the Chinese people for money shouldn’t get sympathy from anyone. Have western “journalist” or laowais lost all their morals?! Shameful!

    Reply
  7. ni hao

    I don’t have evidences for it, nor do you I suppose. I stand on my ground saying that “even though Andrea is presenting herself as an incompetent journalist, I cannot say that she is fake.” I was just talking to my friend (a cameraman) who had attended to many similar national “meetings”, and from her past experiences, the employers handle the application process. The “government” will know who you are and who you work for, but not who you really are. She works for CCTV by the way. You can say my evidence is biased because she works for CCTV, but present to me yours. FOX news is a little more honest isn’t it, where personal beliefs are a little more important than evidences.

    Reply

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