Although I’d been the subject of minor media interest in China, my first interaction with any form of Western media was on January 30th 2020 when I sent an email to a journalist, Alison Rourke of the Guardian Newspaper, an “independent” British newspaper which was reporting regular updates in relation to the then Chinese problems of COVID-19, and had asked readers to contribute insightful information. I messaged them and explained I was living in Southern China and told them what we were doing on a daily basis including how we were living under restrictions which were increasing — from wear a mask, keep a distance and wash your hands — to closure of public places and suspending public transport — then finally, stay home except for one person, one trip out for provisions every second day.
Surprisingly, I received a reply the same day and Ms. Rourke and I communicated for several days about life under COVID-19 restrictions, until I wrote an article and sent it to her about how well the local government were handling the outbreak and how safe I felt living in China despite the problems. Her reply was:
“Thanks for getting in touch again. It has been such a busy week with this story. I will share this with my editor and be in touch if we would like to use it.”
Since that day, more than 18 months have passed and despite making several attempts, I’ve heard nothing more from the Guardian. Since almost every article I saw after that referred to China’s “heavy-handed” approach, remember we saw ridiculous articles of people being welded into their homes, dying in the streets coupled with reports of civilian punishments and punitive governance, all were out of context and failed to reflect any semblance of truth or reality. I concluded that that they weren’t interested in the ordinary, everyday truth about how millions of us were living from day to day. Truths, which they could have found by talking to people in China or even reading Chinese newspapers.
I was isolated by COVID-19, mostly alone and bored so, I took to the internet and wrote a few articles which I posted on social media. I reactivated a Twitter account I had not used and started to post photos and stories from bike rides I had taken across China.
Two interesting things occurred: Global Times, one of the largest English language news outlets in China contacted me and asked for an interview related to my experience in Xinjiang and; people started to question how it was that I, a foreigner was allowed to cycle through Xinjiang in light of reported persecution and oppression there. Not having been much interested in news at that time, both of these things intrigued me.
In the case of the former, I agreed and was interviewed — this led to more interesting experiences we shall come back to. In the case of the latter, I posted more photos and wrote more to refute allegations of mass incarceration, oppression, persecution and so on. I gained a lot of followers, but also lost a few who refused to believe that my experience was either accurate or valid because they had seen what they believed must be true, they refused to accept the perspective of someone who had travelled extensively in the region, met and interacted with locals and experienced nothing their reports alleged.
After the GT report was published, my life took a new and different direction, I wrote a few articles and became known as a “freelance journalist” something I make no claim to be, what I am, perhaps, is a “China diarist”. Since then, my written articles have been published in English and in Chinese, in many different Chinese publications and this means international reporters (some call themselves journalists) could now see there was a foreigner living in China with an opinion on Xinjiang. This should have been solid gold in terms of refuting a narrative which had taken hold. A narrative which is wrong, but is nevertheless widely held as true in the “western” world. What I learnt subsequently was that these reporters have no intention or desire to change the narrative, most of them either like it as it is or are afraid to change it.
I was contacted by a journalist from the Murdoch Press stable, he asked for a phone interview to discuss my Xinjiang experience. Naively, I thought this might do some good, so we agreed a date and time. We had a minute of small talk and then he asked: “Did the Global Times fairly represent your views on Xinjiang?” I replied, yes, they did.” He said: ‘thank you, that’s all I need to know”, it was the end of the interview — in other words, he wanted nothing to do with MY truth and since it didn’t match HIS truth, he didn’t need any more from me.
In July 2020 I was contacted by a lady called Isobel Cockerell, a reporter from a news outlet called CodaStory. Her approach was:
“I’d really like to talk about your recent trip to Xinjiang and what you learnt from going there. As someone who reports quite a bit on Xinjiang issues, I think it’s important to get some other perspectives, would you be willing to have a phone call about it?”
Being very interested in supplying the “other” side, I agreed. We chatted through messages for a day or two, I provided photographs of Xinjiang and included interactions with Uyghurs as well as links to my other writing, none of which seems to have been referenced, in fact, in the interview, which is on YouTube (https://youtu.be/L9AyqT6RC4E), it was apparent from her manner that she really had no interest in anything I had to say unless it criticised China. When the article, entitled “Pro-Beijing Influencers and their rose-tinted view of life in Xinjiang” was released, it was completely biased and misrepresentative, find it here: https://t.co/MFON3niovo?amp=1
More recently, unrelated to Xinjiang, I wrote for a Guangdong publication about the wave of activity surrounding their outbreak. I was complimentary about the number of vaccines and nucleic acid tests being administered and the steps being taken to prevent the spread in and around Guangzhou. An Australian friend of mine, with contacts in the ABC sent a copy to them linked to my email address. One day later, I received an email it said:
“Hi Mr Grey, would you be interested in speaking to Peter Goers about this on his ABC Radio Adelaide evening show?”
Since I know of Peter Goers, he is one of the more reasoned and intelligent commentators on Australian radio, I replied back:
“Yes, I’m interested in speaking to Peter. I must tell you though, my views on China don’t align very well to the standard ABC views which I generally find quite misleading to say the least and complete fabrication on some occasions. I do know that Peter has a more balanced approach though.”
12 hours later, despite the fact that it was ABC that had approached me, I received the following:
“Thank you for your interest. On this occasion, we will decline.”
Their reason, when I asked, was as follows:
“… I made the decision not to proceed with the segment, for reasons of editorial responsibility; specifically Editorial Policies 2.1 and 2.2.”
He didn’t explain this in the email, nor did he provide any supporting information so, I went online to the ABC website to see what this meant, I found this:
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
I’m not sure how my article, which told how COVID-19 was being managed could have been construed as out of context, inaccurate or presented in a misleading way. I have photographs, I have my own experience and I have links to documentation issued by the government and local news reports to support everything in it. My only conclusion in this matter is that the article, and any subsequent interview with me, would paint China in a positive light; something the Australian government, who are the paymasters of the ABC, may not approve of.
In recent months, I’ve been described disparagingly by the ABC in Australia as a “retired security guard who cycles around China”. This was after Wang Xi Ning, China’s deputy head of mission in Australia, mentioned me by name as a reliable source of information on Xinjiang in a speech to the Australian Press. After that kind of endorsement, I would have expected a barrage of Australian journalistic questions, however, with the exception of the above quote, not one of the more than 100 journalists to whom he spoke has contacted me.
I’ve also been described as a “Beijing influencer” at a time when I had no YouTube account only 3000 followers on Twitter and no other international social media accounts. I’ve been denied a platform by Murdoch’s press because my opinions don’t align with their anti-China rhetoric and now the ABC, who wanted to interview me, decided they no longer wish to because I pointed out I would be telling the truth.
For the record, I did work in the security industry but not as a security guard, I was a General Manager in what was then the second largest security company in the world, Chubb Security. I was also a police officer in London during the times of the IRA bombing campaign so I have seen the results of what a terrorist bomb can do. I hold a Masters Degree focused on Chinese Cultural Workplace Psychology. I’ve travelled, by bicycle, over 25,000 kilometres across the length and width of China and, in doing so have engaged with many ethnic minorities. I’ve visited three of the four municipalities and have visited all but 5 of the mainland provinces/autonomous regions.
I don’t claim to be an expert on China, to do so would be highly arrogant and, in my opinion insulting to Chinese people, only someone born here with intimate knowledge and a wide range of experiences could claim that title, certainly that isn’t me. It may also be true that I see China through rose-tinted glasses, but for a very good reason, it’s easy to view a country which does so much good, builds so much infrastructure and produces consistently good growth in lifestyle and income for the people, in a positive light. Despite negative press comments, designed to denigrate, I do have more expertise than most journalists and many “experts” some of whom have never even visited China.
I’m not alone, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people like me posting, blogging and vlogging positively about China, many are Chinese citizens, many are not, one common factor with all of these people is that they are either ignored by Western media, or if they are considered at all, they are ridiculed and disparaged as being unreliable, accused of being paid, or as is often alleged on Twitter and YouTube, “coerced” by threats to our families to toe a certain CPC line and produce Communist propaganda. If that were the case, it would be very likely that each of us foreigners would have left a long time ago.
Critical thinking readers need to ask themselves:
Why do all of us who live in China consistently have such a different experience to those who report on China from outside?
Could our extensive knowledge of society, geography and culture, as well as our positive experiences in China threaten their narrative, a narrative most, if not all of us, living in China believe to be completely untrue and totally misrepresented?
Why would global media ignore such an informed, knowledgeable and experienced pool of resources?
The answer to any of these questions can never be: to provide unbiased reporting of life in China. It can only be: to continue the bias and represent china to the world as something they want her to be, but isn’t.