A Lesson in Journalistic Integrity
I received a message with a link to an article in which I was one of the interviewees. https://www.codastory.com/authoritarian-tech/influencers-xinjiang-denialism/
I have to say, that there are some inaccuracies and certain omissions from the article which make me look different to how I feel I should be perceived. First of all, I am grateful that I was sent a copy of the article but I am a little upset about two things:
One: it was sent to me within a few minutes of midnight and I wasn’t given any time whatsoever to comment as it was already posted and “tweeted”. I received the article and within 30 minutes, was under fire and criticism from people who, having read the article, believe I have different opinions on the basis of the article. No doubt the article will be well read and no doubt some will see me as a kind of monster.
Two: the post was sent out with the following tweet: “I interviewed Carl Zha, Xi Fan and Jerry Grey, who ignore overwhelming evidence of Xinjiang human rights abuses and cast doubt on the detention programs tearing Uyghur families apart”.
I won’t speak for the other two, but I, Jerry Grey, do not and have never ignored human rights abuses, I’m sure the other’s haven’t but a simple view of the video will show that this is not only erroneous, it is sensationalism at its worst — to describe it as “clickbait” is a very generous description. In my opinion it is a despicable distortion of the truth.
Before starting to write this rebuttal, I watched the video interview, downloaded it to my laptop and copied it to a friend. The video interview lasted 58 minutes, the article is published as a 9-minute read. I’m realistic enough to know my words would be edited. My purpose of revisiting is because the edit hasn’t just cut out extraneous information, it has changed the narrative of the story, I was told I was being interviewed for an alternative perspective, in fact I was interviewed and, in my opinion, “character assassinated”.
In the following pages, everything I say is true and verifiable — if any reader would like confirmation of this, please contact me by DM or through Medium.com and I will happily provide a copy of the video interview to them. I have also provided the interview to a friend with a podcast and YouTube channel. If he wants to upload it, he has my permission, it will be free for anyone to view and compare my words with the writer, Isobel Cockerell’s words. Those people who are now “haters” can, if they want watch, read or listen and I’ll be happy to accept their apologies for the abuse and vilification I have already received in the, less than 24 hours since the article was written. Those who don’t want to bother with such niceties, will simply be blocked from my Twitter feed.
Let’s look first at the title: Pro Beijing Influencers and their Rose-tinted view of life from Xinjiang:
Several times in the interview I mentioned I am no fan of the Chinese government, this hasn’t been mentioned once and is, in fact completely omitted to make it appear that I am a fan. I am neither pro-Beijing nor anti-Beijing. They do some things well, and when they do, I applaud them; they do some things badly and I’m critical of them — I still haven’t been locked up for this!
“Influencers” is a very interesting choice of word and we did discuss this on the interview when it was mentioned, I laughed: I have 4,000 twitter followers, many of whom are Chinese and supportive of what I say. I would suggest those who are not supportive of what I say follow me just to see what they can find to argue about with me. We discussed and decided I was not an influencer so it is a misrepresentation of the question to give me the title of influencer. I guess Carl Zha, another interviewee, may be considered an influencer, he does have more followers and he does promote China, but he and I have only conversed one time, we have exchanged one or two messages and passed comments on each other’s posts. Xi Fan, the third “pro-Beijing influencer” as I described too is barely known to me, she has nearly 7,000 followers, but I think that’s because she’s a lot prettier than I am rather than for her political views. She mainly posts pictures of her fashion and her music choices but she does openly support and stand up for her Chinese heritage. I think (thought) she is living in Adelaide, but I’m not even certain of that.
The sub-title: a network of Twitter and Tik Tok personalities cast doubt on Uyghur abuses in Xinjiang:
To describe three people, who have never met, never spoken to each other and have barely communicated through the medium of Twitter as a network is, a VERY long bow to stretch.
And then, the very fact that these are title uses the word “abuses” and not “allegations of abuse”, does set the scene for the remainder of the article. We can clearly see which direction this is going.
The article also fails to mention that none of the three “influencers” uses Tik Tok, or, if we do, I certainly don’t know about it — once again, hardly a network! Tik Tok is not part of my repertoire and, although you might find some videos of me on Tik Tok, they are not placed there by me, I don’t have the app on my phone or my laptop. The writer conveniently forgot to mention this, and perhaps this is because I wasn’t asked in the interview for the article and, despite having it as part of the sub title, there are only 3 references to Tik Tok and not one of them refers to any of the three subjects of the interviews — cleverly laced into the content to make our “network of social media connections” appear more relevant, but totally unrelated and, in fact, untrue. At best a spurious journalism tactic worthy of a tabloid, rather than a well trained and Columbia educated journalist.
It’s taken me over 500 words to refute the title and sub title. As I said in the interview, I didn’t want my words cherry-picked to substantiate a narrative that I disagree with, and I will refute it if they are — they have been, so, here goes…
1st Paragraph: I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attempt to make me appear wrong, but I specifically said, not in the interview, but in a written message after the interview to clarify some of the things I love about the region. The minaret I admired is the tallest “adobe” minaret in Asia. (There are taller in Africa). I mentioned it, in writing after the interview, for one reason only and that’s to demonstrate that not only is Islam being practiced but also that the history of the religion is not only preserved but promoted as tourism. I am well aware that there are many taller brick, stone and other construction minarets, and I even have photographs of myself and my wife near some of them in Xinjiang. Making a statement such as this either makes me, the person stating it, appear foolish and ill-informed. Perhaps the writer is twisting words to give that impression, or worse, it’s a small lie in order to prepare readers for later lies that. “If he said this, then he can’t be believed about that”. I am giving the benefit of the doubt here and assume it was a misunderstanding.
2nd Paragraph: At no stage did I suggest there are concentration camps, I did suggest that there would probably be prisons. What has been omitted here is that I have seen hundreds of prisons both inside and outside from 10 years working as a police officer and 18 years working in the security industry in Australia — I know what a prison looks like, I didn’t see anything that looked like a prison. The narrative here in this paragraph also should be given a closer look: I was referring to prisons and the writer was referring to concentration camps. I stated clearly: “I never saw any but this doesn’t mean they aren’t there”. This one line, which is included in the interview and in the article, completely refutes the entire narrative that I am ignoring overwhelming evidence, as suggested in the tweet posting the link to the article, or that I am wearing “rose coloured glasses” as intimated in the title.
3rd Paragraph: the information selected is accurate however it’s not inclusive. I also went on to say many things about how we managed to navigate through the security and how I, as a former police officer who has seen victims of terrorist bombing, actually wished we could have done the same in the UK during the IRA bombing campaign. I also suggested that in other countries they bomb or shoot terrorists, and, whilst I don’t think locking up people in a camp is EVER reasonable, it’s a lot more humane than bombs, drone strikes and gunfire. I went on to mention how helpful the security people were to us, they gave us fruit, water and drinks of tea while we were processed. They even suggested possible alternative routes for us but never, at any stage told us we couldn’t go along a specific path or road. These omissions tend to give the reader a concept of pain in the butt (my words) security checks and nothing more — the security checks are necessary, anyone with the correct paperwork can walk through in seconds. Those of us without Chinese ID need manual processing, so for my wife, a Han Chinese, she went through with all the other travellers, Uyghur, Han or any other Chinese ethnicity, while myself and my Australian friend were processed in a very cool, comfortable environment and looked after. These police officers are often minorities themselves; I did not ask if they were Uyghurs as I felt that might be considered rude.
4th Paragraph is essentially incorrect: There is no controlling of the “Muslim” population evident. What is evident is a controlling of the entire population. Muslim, Han or foreigner, every person is checked and processed. The locals, by a very fast scan of the card and a facial recognition system which opens a gate in seconds. Hundreds of people could be processed in minutes and I saw no queues for anyone to go through as there are enough scanners to handle everything we saw. It is an imposition, but a minor one, as they need to get out of cars, the driver stays in the car and is scanned in the driving seat while the passengers walk through a large, clean, air-conditioned building and back out to the car in matter of moments
5th Paragraph is incomplete: during this topic I was asked “what number of Uyghurs being locked up would be acceptable to me?” An abhorrent question and my facial expressions when I answered this will tell any viewer my feeling on the matter. My answer was none. No one should be locked up if they haven’t committed a crime — it is at this point that the article moves from misinforming its readers to a far more serious position of deceiving them.
6th Paragraph: in this paragraph the article states: “he has devoted the past five months denying the existence of detention camps in the region, citing his bike ride as evidence”. This statement is as close to total fabrication as is possible to achieve. I challenge any person to read any of my tweets and find a statement denying the existence of anything, there may be many replies and even some tweets where I state I saw none. Read my tweets, read everything I have written and posted on Medium.com and go back to look at the video of this interview. I have not, and do not ever, deny the existence of camps, I simply say that no one has proven they exist for the purposes alleged. I also go one step further than this and say that there are active steps around the world to start a war with China and this story is the basis of it. Just two days ago I tweeted this: “Please, please, please can people start looking at comments like this and agreeing — if Genocide is going on it MUST be stopped. But for God’s sake, at least establish if it actually is, before starting a war over it” https://twitter.com/Jerry_grey2002/status/1291363423347814400?s=20 Hardly the action of a person in denial and certainly a very strong condemnation of the words written in this article.
After this paragraph you include a copy of a tweet from Nathan Ruser, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyst who asked me on 17th July if he wanted me to send him coordinates — you post his request to me but don’t mention my same day reply to him which was: “Well, nice to meet you Nathan, I’m not in Xinjiang now, but please do send those coordinates and next time I travel there, unrestricted and without guides, I’ll take a look and get back to you email firstname.lastname@example.org Look forward to receiving them Thanks”
And now, we have a very interesting development because just this morning, at 2:43am my time, August 8th, which is before 6am anywhere in Australia I received an email from Nathan Ruser with coordinates and photographs of “camps”. I find it inconceivable that within two hours posting a story intimating I am part of a “network of influencers” that one of the very people who was referred to in this story sends me what he suggested I need after ignoring me for over 3 weeks. He may make the point that I blocked him, but Twitter records will demonstrate I blocked him only in the last week, because it was quite obvious, we would never have met on any common ground. I wonder where the “network” really is? Why was it felt necessary to include this tweet as part of the background, when it wasn’t felt necessary to include any one of the other 3–4,000 tweets, including my reply to him which was ignored until this article was posted?
Another part of the interview which was conveniently omitted. I also pointed out during the interview that ASPI is a funded think tank which draws its income from the very people who benefit from wars. Recent funding has been from Lockheed-Martin and funds paid knowing that ASPI have recently advised the Australian government who now are investing $800 million in Lockheed Martin products — let the readers draw their own conclusions but there is certainly no agenda whatsoever for ASPI, where a peaceful and benevolent explanation can be found for what they analyse. Their funding would dry up in a moment.
I now ask, as there seems to be mounting evidence that there is a link between the writer of this article and ASPI — what is the connection?
7th Paragraph starts with the words: in March… and is accurate
8th Paragraph the article now seems to start with ridicule: “His Twitter page is a relentless rehashing of his camp-free cycling tour”. (Which in itself is a contradiction of the earlier comment that he has spent the last five months denying the existence of…). Now, I ask what is the purpose of this: is it to ridicule the interviewee, is it to demonstrate he doesn’t have the capacity to think in a straight line, is it to show that he’s a keen cyclist o therefore not a valid political pundit? I have no idea. Either I’m a rehashing cyclist of no relevance, or I’m a serial denialist needing to be refuted — this article certainly can’t decide.
Indeed, there are many photos and tweets related to a cycling tour and this is the reason I came on to Twitter. It seems the writer of the article is in someway offended by my “flippancy” when in fact, the comments on Twitter related to my bike ride constitute around 10%-20% of the total and many other comments relate to my thoughts on politics, my thoughts on movies, links to other sites I am either interested in or contributed to. Overall, the idea of picking one topic from a range of tweets is simply irrelevant.
9th Paragraph is essentially correct, I have attracted the attention of some Chinese media.
10th Paragraph, I agree, their propaganda department suck, I did not go on, as the article suggests to say “maybe I am being used”. However, I was asked the question in the interview: How do you feel being used as a propaganda tool by the Communist Party?” I laughed and we discussed that I felt I wasn’t being used, but “if” I was, I hadn’t been told to say anything and was only giving the message as I felt I saw it. The article goes to to use the words “comrades in arms”. And here I need to take up with the code of ethics of a journalist.
In talking to me, prior to the interview, the writer and I discussed whether Xi Fan would be willing to go on the record and I pointed out that Xi Fan was not a friend of mine, we only know each other because we were connected to some of the same people in Twitter, I pointed out that, because of the number of abusive tweets we had received we were “comrades in arms” rather than friends: this is a euphemism which has been grossly taken out of context and, not only that: was included before we had agreed to an interview — off the record. My understanding is that comments made before the recording began would be off limits, but obviously Isobel Cockerell, doesn’t believe anything said privately has the same rights. A complete lack of journalistic integrity of which any self-respecting journalist should be ashamed! The comment was privately given, meant to be humorous and not meant to convey anything sinister yet has been used in the context of the feeling that we are involved in some kind of offensive war.
We are then faced with one of my tweets where I made a play on the words “concentration camps”. I suggested there were none in view, but a great deal of concentration is needed to focus on getting through the desert. In fact, the Taklamakan Desert is known as a killer, the pictures in the tweet show clearly the hostile environment and the fact that concentration is needed to survive this environment. Once again, an out of context tweet, perhaps, in retrospect a poor taste joke. I fail to understand, however, why this tweet, of my total of over 5,000 is the one which makes the article.
This brings me to the end of my part in the article and I will let Carl and Xi Fan respond according to their wishes about how they believe they have been handled (mishandled? By the writer. I must go on to discuss some of the things that weren’t mentioned in the article which were mentioned in the interview.
China has been through a massive poverty alleviation campaign in recent years, I mentioned in the interview that in 2014, I saw people living in caves, using donkey carts. This has changed now, there are cars, electric and motor bikes, there are shopping centres where there were slaughter houses and there are modern facilities in every town I visited in 2020. Much of this did not exist in 2014 the first time I went to the region by bike.
Urumqi is an unrecognisable city now compared to the first time I went there, with my father in 2005. Poverty alleviation means education, not just for kids, not just for adults, but for everyone. It’s just possible that some of the people allegedly “forced into labour” are actually benefiting from this work and grateful for it. We discussed an alien concept of “migrant workers” in China where people often (commonly) leave their homes for up to two years to earn money to send home. This is unique to China, outside observers don’t often see this. We discussed the “BBC expose of Foxconn” a few years ago, where the BBC reported people sleeping at their desks because of exhaustion — this is laughable and shows a complete lack of cultural awareness. Migrant work, long lunch breaks, sleeping at the desk are all common, no, not common, they are habitual. The problem is, with the exception of the world bank, no one has been there to ask the workers if they are happy, or being forced — when the world bank did go, and they did ask, they received favourable replies. Easily researchable, but left out because it doesn’t suit the narrative of abuses and genocide.
There are no doubt prisons and camps in Xinjiang, but there is also no doubt the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) sent many thousands of Uyghurs to Turkey and Syria. This is a movement that is banned, not by the Chinese, or even by the UN, but by the USA State department. The head of the Anti-Terrorism department of the UN Vladimir Voronkov went to Xinjiang and investigated. Once again, his report was shelved because it was favourable. Xinjiang needs a heavy security presence, and the UN agrees with that, we discussed all these comments and I gave my views. Again, they are easily researchable, but they have been omitted as they don’t fit the narrative.
There is no repression apparent for the Uyghur language — I sent a photograph of a road sign which clearly shows dual language is commonly used, I discussed that every TV show actually has Uyghur subtitles, every shop window shows a variety of languages and LED display sings in Arabic script are everywhere. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the adherence to Islam is being stymied, or prevented, and I showed photographs of several mosques to demonstrate this. Some of the conversations omitted are shown in screenshots here.
I asked, and I still ask: if these two stories, language and Islam “genocide” are lies, what else is wrong with the narrative. And clearly, if these two are wrong, why then are so many people in media following the same stories and not looking at the alternative. I still say, I will always say, and I said many times during my interview for this article, that there are a great many problems in Xinjiang, but I will absolutely shout at the top of my voice that the articles we are seeing describing stories of abuse and enslavement, desperately need an independent body, with media coverage to go in and look.
In the article, the writer states that myself and Carl Zha are “bloggers, youtubers and social media personalities” I can’t speak for Carl, he does have a YouTube presence, but I do not, I have a Medium.com account where, until last week I had posted a total of 22 articles, many about bike riding but have now added a couple of what might be called “political” articles. I have 110 followers, I don’t use Tik Tok and I don’t use Weibo, I’ve been active on Twitter since March and I visit my Facebook page at most, once a week and has 131 friends — hardly a social media icon and hardly a “personality” but I am flattered by the compliment.
The writer goes on to say there are hundreds of accounts which appear to be inauthentic. I don’t know all my followers, but I would challenge the writer to name 10 in my follower base which are inauthentic. In order to justify this, the writer shows a screenshot of a Uyghur making the claim. Not one example was given and I was not asked about this in the interview — perhaps an oversight, but once again, shoddy journalism in making a claim without a shred of substantiation.
Why has the Chinese government’s open invitation to the UN HRC to visit been constantly refused? Is there a hidden agenda, or is it as obvious as it appears? Is the writer of the article quoting me, inappropriately and out of context, truly interested in the human rights aspect of this and caring for the misplaced and displaced Uyghur population, or is she simply following a narrative that she is paid to follow — keep making up stories that no one is allowed to travel to the region to refute. As I’ve already demonstrated, foreigners ARE allowed to travel through Xinjiang, we can do so unescorted and we can do so without even stopping in hotels and towns without being questioned — something strange is going on, what do you, if you’re still reading this far, think it is?
The article goes on with much more detail of displaced Uyghurs and “overwhelming evidence” uncovered by researchers and journalists. My view on this is that there is one researcher who uncovers the mountains of evidence and all other reports stem from him. This problem is the subject of a much larger investigation carried out by people other than myself, but it seems the writer of this article has never researched the researcher. That alone might make a big difference.
After a short part of the article where the writer criticises Xi Fan for celebrating a happy event — “Hong Kong can be stable now” — the article abruptly ends without any real conclusion but moves quickly onto a request for money. I don’t know much about the politics of Hong Kong but I also celebrate that it can be stable. I live and have worked a long time in China, I can’t say it’s perfect, but when I retired, I decided to stay here, I suspect readers can assume from that that I am pretty happy in China. IF HK is indeed stable, surely that’s good for the 7/8 million people who live there. And living under the “yolk of communism” certainly isn’t as bad as made out, so say 93% of the Chinese people who were asked about it in a recent survey and so say Harvard University after 13 years of study by a team of PhD scholars.
I derive no income at all from writing this article I ask for no income for writing it, I was not paid for the interview I did with CGTN or Global Times, both of which were mentioned in order to reduce my credibility or perhaps instil in readers that I am some sort of government sponsored employee.
I would love to be paid for reporting what I see, saying what I think, researching what I don’t understand. However, much more importantly, I simply want the truth to come out before there is a war. A war justified by this narrative: what I see here is another “WMD”, Another “babies thrown from incubators”, another “Gulf of Tonkin” and another million people, including Uyghurs, who will die just to find it was all a big mistake. We’re still waiting for apologies for the last few!
I am not in denial of the situation in Xinjiang being an extremely difficult and complex one, I am not in denial that there is an active anti-terrorist campaign going on. I do not even deny that there are probably people in prison now who should not be there and that needs to be closely examined. I emphasised this in the interview several times but was still quoted as being in denial of the “evidence”.
Yet, I have seen some evidence which indicates to me, a former police officer, trained in investigations and psychology and with a Master’s degree in cultural awareness that the story is not as it seems. This is not denial and I do not deny the existence of problems, nor do I deny there are some VERY tragic stories from the region. I simply say what I saw does not match the narrative, therefore, I believe the narrative should be more closely examined.
In conclusion, this entire activity has soured me towards speaking with any reporter. If I speak to followers of the narrative, I’m misrepresented, misquoted and taken out of context. If I speak with Chinese journalists, I’m a paid lacky, a CPC shill, a bot and many other words which are slightly less printable. At the end of the day, I now have one journalist on my blacklist, I’ve learnt a valuable lesson in journalistic ethics and integrity.
And that, is the lesson I take from this.