Andrea Yu (L) of CAMG Media. Yu has been accused of working with CPC officials to provide ‘soft’ questions during press conferences. Image credit: CAMG Media.
The story of Australian “reporter” Andrea Yu and her employer, CAMG Media, is proving to be one of the most interesting developments of the Communist Party of China (CPC) 18th Party Congress; which is itself something of a sad commentary on how little news actually comes out of Party events.
Who is Andrea Yu and why should I care?
Yu first caught the eye of China watchers when she was called upon to ask a question at a press conference with National Development and Reform Commission Chairman Zhang Ping. Foreign journalists are very rarely called upon by Chinese officials, who tend to favour reporters from state media who can be trusted not to ask difficult questions, so this was an impressive accomplishment for the previously unknown Ms Yu. The Australian impressed further by asking her question in perfect, if slightly stammered, Mandarin.
Eyebrows were really raised however when Yu was called upon again, this time at a press conference with Housing Minister Jiang Weixin. A foreign journalist being invited to question Party officials once is rare, being allowed to do so four times, as Ms Yu was able to, is unheard of. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Ms Yu put her prolific questioning down to sitting in the right spot and making eye contact with moderators.
However, as many slightly miffed reporters, many of whom had been at the very same press conferences as Ms Yu, pointed out, her questions were rather on the soft side. The reason for this swiftly became apparent when Stephen McDonnell of ABC News caught up with Ms Yu in the Great Hall of the People:
STEPHEN MCDONNELL: Because I mean you could say that it’s as if the Chinese government has brought you up here as a sort of friendly journalist to essentially ask itself questions that it likes about its own performance.
ANDREA YU: Yes, you could say that, but you could only say that if you knew who my company was and we are fairly, I would say, not very well-known at this stage.
Yu goes on to admit that the questions she asked were pre-written by Chinese colleagues and that CPC officials “know my questions are safe”. Yu is essentially fulfilling a very old laowai role: providing a white face to Chinese business.
So who is Andrea Hodgkinson?
Here’s where the story starts to take a turn for the strange. Twitter user @fightcensorship (h/t: Beijing Cream) discovered an ‘Andrea Hodgkinson’ on the cover of ‘current affairs’ magazine Oriental BQ who bore a striking resemblance to CAMG’s Andrea Yu.
Suspicions were confirmed when the public face of CAMG, Will Cannon, tweeted a link to the cover from the company’s official Twitter account.
Update #1: Will Cannon is no longer the name associated with the official CAMG Twitter account and the original tweet about Ms Yu/Hodgkinson’s cover has been deleted. Thankfully Beijing Cream took a screenshot for posterity:
Oriental BQ appears to be owned by the same Australian conglomerate, AIMG, that also owns CAMG and employs Ms Yu. The cover story in the issue Ms Yu fronts is about her reporting at the 18th Party Congress, suggesting, if OBQ is indeed owned or at least in partnership with CAMG, further attempts to bolster Ms Yu’s fraudulent journalistic credentials.
Who is this Will Cannon then?
As I mentioned above, Cannon is the public face of CAMG, he runs the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages and his is the only email address I was able to track down for anyone at the company.
According to his personal Facebook page (privacy settings are your friend Will), Cannon is an American, originally from South Carolina, who lives in Beijing, where CAMG is headquartered. Cannon supported failed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson in the recent US Presidential Election, which isn’t really relevant but I find entertaining.
So why does this matter?
It matters because Cannon and Yu/Hodgkinson are presenting their organisation as a journalistic one. In doing so they try to borrow the legitimacy of real journalism to hide their own brand of sleazy public relations work for the CPC. While she was asking questions at Party press conferences, or answering questions herself when she was interviewed by CCTV, Yu never revealed that she was a PR flack, deliberately placed in the room to provide soft questions for soft politicians.
In an article on CAMG Media’s website, Yu demonstrates a monumental dearth of self-awareness by criticizing, albeit half-heartedly, the levels of “transparency” at CPC events.
The marriage of PR and journalism is an unhealthy one at the best of times, but ploys like the one carried out by CAMG Media threaten to dispel whatever shred of integrity PR still had. It’s bad enough that the CPC has a huge state media complex to parrot its every word, let alone dress up bought-and-paid-for flacks as ‘foreign’ or ‘independent’ journalists.
Have you come across CAMG Media, Andrea Yu/Hodgkinson, or Will Cannon? Contact me at [email protected].