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  • Jaq James

A Counterstrategy for Hit Pieces on Chinese Australians

Updated: Jun 25, 2020

Journalist Kelly Burke of 7News who went after Chinese Australian businessman, Richard Yuan

Here’s where we stand as of 1 May 2020. If you are an Australian citizen of Chinese descent, you will be accused of being linked to the Chinese Communist Party. If you are an Australian citizen of Chinese descent, you will be accused of being a Chinese citizen. If you are an Australian citizen of Chinese descent, you will be accused of unconscionable profiteering or foreign interference for any way you make a living or any type of donations you make to Australia. Now that I’ve got your attention with these journalism-inspired black-and-white, no-room-for-grey, headlines, let’s get straight to why I want your attention. I have a counterstrategy that I believe all Chinese Australians need to start to employ if journalists with an agenda, like Ms Kelly Burke of 7 News, come after you. But first, let’s delve into the Burke strategy. Step One: Decide you want to write a scandalous story about someone based on their press release. Step Two: Take 3 weeks to write that said story. Step Three: A mere 24 hours before you intend to publish that said story, come up with a long list of allegations and loaded statements that already hint at your conclusions and expect your target to respond within the unreasonable timeframe. (There are three advantages to putting your target in a defensive position under time-stress instead of asking your target clarifying questions within a reasonable timeframe. First, it forces your target into a limited scope of word choice that can look incriminating. Second, it deflects attention away from your weak evidence or lack of evidence. Third, in the rush to meet the short deadline, the risk of your target making careless or unintended remarks increases.) Step Four: Engage in a fishing expedition by not couching your allegations in evidence. Step Five: Publish your story with contradictions, innuendos, misleading and inaccurate claims, and a mocking tone, ensuring damage to your target’s reputation and business interests. This is the strategy that appears to have been used on Australian businessman, Mr Richard Yuan, in Ms Burke’s hit piece published a few days ago. Based on all the evidence I have had access to, I have advised Mr Yuan to seek legal advice on his prospects of filing a defamation claim against both 7 News and Ms Burke. Richard’s case certainly feels like deja vu, taking me back to the time I helped Chinese international student, Ms Lupin Lu, sue the ABC for deceptively editing her interview to falsely accuse her of being a proxy for the Chinese Community Party. But in Mr Yuan’s case, unlike Ms Lu’s case, I would assume that a settlement with a gag clause won’t be an option on the table. A businessman such as Mr Yuan, whose livelihood depends on his reputation, would want his name cleared on the public record, which means he would go all the way to court, as Dr Chau Chak Wing did. So here’s the counterstrategy I promised to share with Chinese Australians. When approached by a journalist with an agenda who sends you a list of allegations to respond to, you might like to screenshot those allegations and upload them on a public social media account (such as Twitter). Alongside that, upload another screenshot of your responses to the allegations, and tag commentators who have taken a stance against the demonisation of Chinese Australians. This serves four purposes. One, it helps safeguard against your comments being spun or decontextualised since you've posted them in the public domain. Two, it exposes the journalist's full agenda before it gets watered down in the final publication. Three, it gives other commentators the chance to investigate the story independently. Four, you have given other journalists the chance to poach an exclusive story. There is risk to this counterstrategy, of course. If the journalist who approached you is professional and can see that a line of inquiry is ‘much ado about nothing’ after receiving your response, you may have ended up bringing unnecessary attention upon yourself. However, given the current reporting climate that is putting Chinese Australians in an impossible position - i.e. ‘Chinese Australians who don’t help us are bad’ VS ‘Chinese Australians who do help us are bad’ - you may want to count on a journalist wanting to write a hit piece on you. As so many journalists like to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Update, 25 June 2020: As of today, the article defaming Mr Richard Yuan has been taken down as a result of a settlement between Mr Yuan and 7News.

* Jaq James is an English rhetoric educator, legal policy analyst, Chinese tea culture writer and friend of the ACT Chinese Australian Association. She currently works between Canberra and China. Her most recent advocacy work in Australia includes helping with a defamation action against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media for deceptively editing an interview of Chinese international student, Ms Lupin Lu, that falsely painted her as a Chinese Communist Party spy. The case was settled with a non-disclosure agreement. Jaq has also assisted Australian public sector whistleblowers who have been subject to forced psychiatric examinations under public service legislation, as well as other victimisation tactics.

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