Canadian journalist: China asked me to spy on Dalai Lama
Published Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:25PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 23, 2012 12:45PM EDT
A Canadian author and journalist says he quit his job as an Ottawa correspondent for China's state news agency when his editor asked him to spy on the Dalai Lama.
Mark Bourrie quit his job at Xinhua in April after two years working for the agency.
In his time with the news organization, there were several occasions when Bourrie said he suspected his credentials as a member of the Ottawa press gallery were being used to access information that was meant purely for intelligence purposes in Beijing.
But it wasn't until this spring that "it all came crashing down."
Bourrie said he had been assigned to cover the Dalai Lama's visit to Ottawa, and to find out what was said in a private meeting between the Tibetan spiritual leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
When he realized his reports weren't being published, Bourrie asked his boss, Xinhua's Ottawa bureau chief Dacheng Zhang, why he was being assigned to cover the event in the first place.
"I confronted the bureau chief and said 'look, are we here as journalists or are we using our press gallery credentials to get in here to gather information for the Chinese government? Because if it's the latter I don't want anything to do with it,'" Bourrie told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
He said he was told that the agency didn't publish news that would embarrass the Chinese government, or comments from the Dalai Lama, and that all his reports were going straight to Beijing for intelligence purposes.
Bourrie said he quit on the spot -- a decision he has not regretted.
Zhang, who is currently travelling with other journalists on Harper's annual tour of the Arctic, said on Wednesday that Bourrie’s claim was false, and was the product of “Cold War” ideology.”
He told The Canadian Press that Xinhua's policy is to "cover public events by public means." His job, as Ottawa bureau chief, is to cover news events and file the stories to his Xinhua supervisors. Those editors decide what makes it into print, Zhang said.
Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said it's not unusual for Beijing to use its state journalists as de facto spies.
There have been reports of Xinhua news teams covering Falun Gong protests in Ottawa, taking close-up photographs of attendees and recording transcripts of speeches – though stories are rarely or ever published on the events.
The problem, Juneau-Katsuya said, is that journalists such as Bourrie have no control over how their reports are used once they are sent to Beijing.