National Security


June 18, 2024

Tuesday 18 June 2024
The West Australian
Dan Jervis-Bardy

 Anger as officials try to block jailed Aussie journalist
 Chinese officials have been slammed for "unacceptable" behaviour  after trying to block cameras filming Australian journalist Cheng Lei during  tense scenes that marred a press event featuring Premier Li Qiang at  Parliament House.
 Ms Lei said the conduct appeared designed to stop her saying or doing  something to embarrass Beijing during the Premier's visit.
 The journalist was released from Chinese prison last October after a  three-year ordeal that soured relations between Australia and China.
 Now working for Sky News Australia, Ms Lei joined other Australian  journalists at the press event in Parliament on Monday featuring Mr Li, Prime  Minister Anthony Albanese and senior Labor ministers.
 After she took her seat, a Chinese embassy official positioned himself in  front of her in a clear attempt to block cameras from filming her.
 Australian officials repeatedly asked the Chinese official to move, but he  refused to budge.
 Ms Lei then swapped seats with another journalist, only for another Chinese  official to attempt to block her from a different direction.
 Australian bureaucrats stepped in again, standing in front of Ms Lei to  prevent the Chinese official's advances.
 The West Australian was seated in the same row as Ms Lei and witnessed the  scene, which played out as Federal ministers and China's ambassador to  Australia signed memorandums of understanding to co-operate on areas  including climate change and education.
 Australian officials were seething at the conduct of the Chinese and made  this displeasure clear after Mr Li and Mr Albanese left the room.
 The sight of foreign officials obstructing local media is unheard of in  Australia, a country which, unlike China, promotes press freedom.
 Speaking on Sky News, Ms Lei said the Chinese officials had gone to  "great lengths to block me from the cameras".
 "I am only guessing it is to prevent me from saying something or doing  something that they think would be a bad look.
 But that in itself was a bad look," she said.
 Mr Albanese said he hadn't seen the incident when asked about it on Monday  afternoon.
 "Look, I'm not aware of those issues," he said. "It's  important that people be allowed to participate fully and that's what should  happen in this building or anywhere else in Australia." The West  Australian understands Australian officials have formally raised concerns  about the incident with their Chinese counterparts.
 Shadow home affairs minister James Paterson said that it was "totally  and utterly unacceptable".
 "We do not body block journalists from filming in our Parliament, and  for Chinese officials to behave this way in our country shows disrespect for  our Parliament and our customs," he said. "And frankly, I think  there should be an apology from the Chinese delegation for this behaviour."  Senator Paterson said Mr Albanese's claim he was unaware of the incident was  "not credible".
 The media union also criticised the Chinese officials. "Petty, childish  or something worse?
 Whatever way you describe it, this behaviour is not surprising from a nation  ranked 172nd out of 180 for #pressfreedom," the Media, Entertainment and  Arts Alliance posted on X.
 The West contacted China's embassy for comment.

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