Monday, August 24, 2015

How does Stephen McDonell do it?

Time after time, ABC reporter Stephen McDonell produces the most intrepid reports from China. He speaks perfect Chinese. He seeks out interviewees who are confident, persuasive and often daring. Some are environmental activists, some are journalists, some are anti-corruption crusaders, and a vast number of them are ordinary citizens who have grievances against the state. He films anti-eviction demonstrations, protests against police violence and even protests by separatists. How does he do it? While many of the people he encounters are reluctant to speak on camera, an impressive number are openly critical and speak with startling confidence. The most impressive was an elderly lady at an anti-land grab and anti-eviction demonstration who, when told by a policeman to keep quiet ("You are making us lose face in front of the foreigner"), started reciting her name, address and phone number. She declared her contact details in front of the bevy of policemen who surrounded her. She then turned to the camera and said, "Because I have spoken to you, they will now throw me in jail. But I'm not afraid." Every single time McDonell finds himself in such a tense situation, he is sought out by police officials and 'propaganda' officials who tell the cameraman to stop filming and demand to see his permit. Instead of complying straight away, McDonell confidently and calmly demands in turn to see the official's ID. When he is satisfied, he pulls out his permit, which shows that he does indeed have the right to conduct interviews in China. The confrontation ends. And he continues reporting from China, year after year. There's something really unique going on here. Evidently, he enjoys a degree of freedom that is truly remarkable. In report after report, he offers critical commentary on the Party, including on its senior-most leader. Yet he remains in China and continues to report freely. Just how McDonell does it is a mystery. A good one. 

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