Home > News, Opinion > ABC TV reporter films and angers ‘secret agents;’ one ‘agent’ freaks out

ABC TV reporter films and angers ‘secret agents;’ one ‘agent’ freaks out

Below is a footage by Stephen McDonell while on assignment for ABC TV’s Foreign Correspondent program in China. They were investigating some “underground Christian boom” for airing in Australia. Religion (actually, underground churches) is a sensitive topic, so I can imagine the Chinese government being careful as to not let foreign journalist stir up anything. Apparently, some Chinese security team has been following McDonell, and the reporter finally confronts them. A member of the team freaks out in reaction to being filmed. This whole affair is a bit comical; in tier 1 cities, I imagine these type of folks would be much more experienced. Ever call some customer service department where in the beginning you are reminded the conversation may be recorded for training purposes? That’s what comes to mind for me on this video. McDonell will get catapulted to stardom in the Western press for being part of this ‘news’ – for a while at least – like the guy who got dragged away from Wangfujing.

Of course, we are seeing McDonell’s version of this story. He gets the benefit of video editing and putting his spin on it. He might have been given very specific instructions by Chinese authorities. I don’t expect people like McDonell to be forthcoming on anything. So my reaction is based on this video footage alone. If I find anything related from China side, I will share.

  1. pug_ster
    May 25th, 2011 at 17:57 | #1

    Those guys should’ve grabbed his camera and take the tape. Not to mention that Chinese government should have revoked their journalist visas.

  2. May 25th, 2011 at 21:05 | #2

    Stephen has no right to share / take credit for this tape for he did not have permission to videotape the people in the film. The person videotaped is clearly distraught by the videotape. If people ever value privacy, this is it. Otherwise we go with a anything go regime, where as long as you are taped, you are game. Public figures might not be subjected to the protection, but I think private citizens (being a gov’t employee does not make a person a public figure; you need to be a movie star, politician, reporter, etc.) should.

    Alright, someone may say, but in the West, you don’t get privacy for acts you do in public. This footage is shot in a hotel – which arguably is public for privacy purposes – so be that. OK – but in many places of China, people are just coming into contact with public videography. In such places, the law should tailor to local sense of privacy. Imagine if you shoot videotape of some indigienous people who protests for cultural reasons, don’t they have some right? If someone clearly do not want to be videographed and complain about it, that footage really should not be used – unless greater overriding needs exist, i.e. tape needs to be used for government security reasons.

    Finally – if you still persist, that only law of the West should apply. Fine. But even under Western law, there are some protections. If you shoot others without permission, you should not be allowed to financially profit from it. Since Steven is sharing this to further his career – he is using this for commercial purposes and should be prohibited from doing so.

    Also, the law does not allow one to defame – making innuendos comments about another. This is exactly what is going on. Everything we know about the person is told from the perspective of Steven – who is guessing and making things up – obviously with the motivation to make the subject look bad, truth be damned.

    From so many angles, Stephen McDonell is a dirty slimeball, a trashy hog.

  3. May 26th, 2011 at 01:30 | #3

    For the type of reporting we are seeing in the West, indeed, it takes dirty slimeballs. China needs to step up, expect this to be the ‘norm’ and be able to handle them calmly.

  4. raventhorn2000
    May 26th, 2011 at 05:27 | #4

    Paparazzi gets paparazzied.

    He should get used to it.

  5. May 26th, 2011 at 10:01 | #5

    When I lived in China, 1988 and 1989, I know for a fact, because I witnessed it, that an underground church was opperated in the home of a US Consulate diplomate, actually, CIA attachment. What I witnessed, under the guise of “getting to know you,” was questionng of Chinese, probing for info. With all fairness, later the Chinese local informed me that he only attended because he wanted a chance to get a green card.

    China has every reason to moniter this subversive activity.

  6. zack
    May 26th, 2011 at 10:35 | #6

    in the past, a few western governments would install their intelligence operatives in missionaries; eg CIA operatives in south america to facilitate coups and rebellion.
    it can also be argued that christian missionising encouraged the taiping rebellion-one of the the bloodiest civil war in the world-so with this in mind, it’s not just understandable but highly laudable that Beijing would want to monitor any sort of Church group/activity.

    after all, the FBI monitors cults like falun gong and the raelians; why shouldn’t the Chinese police monitor subversive groups?

  7. May 26th, 2011 at 16:25 | #7

    Thanks for sharing that bit. I think if the U.S. were to tone down and refrain from those specific activities, the relationship between the two countries would be so much smoother.

    This type of incident will precisely harden the security in China. After a long while, nobody will be interested in who was the jerk to begin with. And, de-escalation becomes even harder.

  8. Itto
    May 26th, 2011 at 22:28 | #8

    Western powers work hand in hand with their evangelical churches. Western religions are all about saving the soul and the afterlife but the price is leave your brain at the door of the church and come in to enjoy the kool-aid. There seems to be a default acceptance that anything Christian is good and anything else is bad. China has every right to keep these foreign evangelicals from spreading unchecked.

  9. May 27th, 2011 at 00:10 | #9

    I don’t think Chinese becoming Christian means they become anti-Chinese government. Those playing this game against China are truly interested in ordinary Chinese becoming Christians through the underground churches – not through the official ones. This way, there is a bigger body of citizens for the government to ‘crack down’ upon, which in turn sows more discontent.

    You never ever (ok, extremely rarely) hear these ‘journalists’ report Chinese Christians practicing their religion normally – through churches officially registered. This is where the vast majority of Christians are in China.

    But stirring ‘underground churches’ as if Christianity is banned in China is what they are after and what they are purveying to Westerners.

  10. Itto
    May 27th, 2011 at 17:01 | #10

    Wow, I’d never thought of it that way before, but I think you’re right. Create an oppressed minority where there was none before. Religious oppressed minorities are all the more dangerous too. Christians have been stirring up similar trouble in India for years now.

  11. May 27th, 2011 at 18:39 | #11

    @YinYang #9, Itto #10,

    I want to push further / clarify. The CCP really don’t care about religion per se. I can’t imagine why they would. I mean I can imagine why a devout Muslim and a devout Christian might get into heated debates over the meaning and nature of a God, what is the limit of all omnipotence, what is the nature of after life, etc. But I can’t imagine why a soulless Communist would. The CCP cares about economics and development. They might be interested in debates about inflation, enforcement of policies on developing the Three Gorges, and having a hand in the pulse of school curriculum. But it makes no sense they would clamp down religion – unless, of course, religion is used as a platform to organizing political activity.

    So when people ask: why do the CCP want to license Churches? It’s not because they care about what religion you teach. It’s because there has been a history of Churches being used as platform to foment political mayhem.

    I wrote this once in this comment from another thread.

    A lot of what Granados writes in Part 2 resontates with me. …

    In particular, I subscribe to the notion that separation of church and state means gov’t does not preach religion and religion does not play politics. I also subscribe to the notion that when government and state conflicts, it is because one (or both) is reaching into the domain of the other.

    In India, when a clash between religion and government occurs, there is equal chance that religion or government is at fault. Many times, religious people do foment political actions; but in a state like India, where many gov’t officials are religious or have support of religious people, government people also preach (or at least favor) specific religions.

    In China, when a clash between religion and government occurs, it is almost always inevitably a case of religious people overstepping into the domain of politics. It cannot be otherwise. As many have observed, the CCP is atheist. It frankly does not care about religion unless when religion plays politics. Ten million religious fanatics can let out a collective fart if they want, the gov’t would not give a damn ….

    Of course there is always a public policy component that sometimes do involve some balance. Should parents have the right to starve their children in the name of religion? Should parents have the right to take their children off public education in the name of religion? Should parents have the right to refuse medical care for their children in the name of religion? Should parents be allowed to abuse girls in the name of religion? Should husbands be allowed to abuse women in the name of religion?

    Even if you don’t like the balance ultimately struck by the Chinese gov’t, you have to see that it is a balance and that even if reasonable people may disagree over the balance, it does not mean there is no “freedom” of religion.

  12. May 27th, 2011 at 23:12 | #12

    Thanks for repeating that elaboration. This is the real truth.

  13. zack
    May 29th, 2011 at 13:21 | #13

    for a lot of westerners, it’s more of an ego thing when they want the Chinese to become more western either by adopting western values ie judeo-christian values system over traditional Confucian values, in the form of becoming Christiansed or adopting the Washington consensus.

    they want to revel in the supremacy of their culture, not unlike 19th century imperialists wanting to convert the natives to christianity

  14. Jeff
    June 6th, 2011 at 18:29 | #14

    He wasn’t dragged away from Wangfujing, he was beaten. Your inability to present things in a truthful manner makes your attempts to discredit real journalists a bit laughable.

  15. June 6th, 2011 at 21:53 | #15

    I watched the supposed Grammaticas being ‘beat’ video and I talked about it here:

    The Chinese Foreign Minister also responded to a journalist about this incident. Follow the linked article above and 2nd half of it was my take on that ‘beating’ video.

    If you have better evidence than that then point us to it.

    Despite the BBC doing their own video editing and spin, all we see is Grammaticas being dragged away.

  16. raventhorn2000
    June 7th, 2011 at 06:28 | #16

    Grammaticas himself characterized the incident: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12666701

    “The same day our BBC team were talking with uniformed officers when plainclothes policemen wearing earpieces seized us, dragged us away, and violently threw us into a police van. They deliberately slammed the door on my leg several times.”

    (1) “violently threw us into a police van”, Reporter tossing, like Dwarf tossing, is a sport, not a beating.

    (2) “deliberately slammed the door on my leg several times”. You were already thrown into the van, what was your leg doing holding the van door open?!

    Well at least Grammaticas did not claim that he was “beaten”.

  17. raventhorn2000
    June 7th, 2011 at 06:36 | #17

    “Reporter tossing”, I just came up with a funny sport.

    But I recommend safety in the new sport, to allow safe tossing of reporters in event of “spontaneous congregational media manufactured revolution coverage.”

    (1) All Chinese police vans should be thick padded with at least 20 cm soft foam.

    (2) Reporters, upon arrest, should be immediately encased in strait jacket (with foam padding) to prevent loose limbs from getting caught in vehicle doors.

    (3) When tossing reporters into police vans, exercise proper posture with sufficient number of officers for each reporter (4 is recommended). (lift with your knees, not with your waist).

  18. pug_ster
    July 2nd, 2011 at 07:08 | #18


    Looks like this idiot is selling his rights to be broadcast in Aj Jazeera. Next time they should also mention that Christianity in Qatar is also regulated by some governing body.

  19. Michael
    July 5th, 2011 at 11:12 | #19

    Can I suggest watching the whole 25 minute story before judging it on this small clip put up on Youtube. You need to see the context of this exchange. You can watch it on the ABC “Foreign Correspondent” website http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2011/s3219470.htm

  20. July 5th, 2011 at 14:38 | #20

    Michael #19,

    I don’t see how the clip helps. Can you explain? In my view, the story you linked is a biased story done by a biased reporter. The clip on youtube is about an arrogant asshole being an arrogant asshole. How can one atone for the other?

  21. Michael
    July 6th, 2011 at 20:16 | #21

    Well Allen if that’s the best you can do in terms of analysis – that’s pretty lame.

  22. July 7th, 2011 at 05:41 | #22

    If grainy pictures are the best that reporter can do in terms of proving that those were Chinese government agents, that reporter is pretty lame.

    Seriously, I can’t tell of those guys were the same guys. And the reporter himself only went up close to 1 of them ONCE.

    I can probably google up a few Chinese guys’ photos online that look similar to those guys.

    Was it perhaps this guy: http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/58/58zhangiv.php?

    Or him: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Locke


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