- Australia’s national broadcaster cancelled an interview with Chinese-born human rights activist Anastasia Lin, citing her “affiliations.” A producer said the order came from “higher ups.”
- Lin said the word “affiliations” reminded her of the Chinese Communist Party, and similar threats they have made to her family.
- The Chinese embassy in London reportedly tried to have Lin disinvited from a speech at a university last year, but didn’t succeed.
- The BBC, New York Times, and CNN have all run interviews with Lin in the past.
- The controversial decision comes as Australia grapples with China’s foreign interference in both politics, academia, and media.
Australia’s publicly-funded broadcaster cancelled an interview this week with China-born human rights activist and former Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin because of her unspecified “affiliations.”
An ABC producer scrapped the Wednesday night interview in a phone call to Lin’s representative, telling the activist the decision was made by “higher ups.”
The ABC says the decision was a business-as-usual editorial decision, and queries if the world “affiliations” was used, but the move shook Toronto-based Lin, who has been a vocal critic of the Chinese Communist Party.
“This is the first time in the free world I have ever been censored,” Lin told Business Insider. “So this time, in Australia, is the first time I’ve been exposed to this, I am quite shocked.”
Lin was born in China but moved to Canada at age 13. In 2015, she won the Miss World Canada title, but, having publicly criticised China’s human rights record, was stopped from attending the international competition hosted in Hainan that year.
For her comments, Beijing deemed her persona non grata, a powerful diplomatic term that effectively banned her from the country. But her platform as an activist has continued to grow. She has written for the Washington Post and has been interviewed by the likes of The New York Times, CNN, and BBC.
Despite a range of preparations and a pre-interview earlier on Wednesday, a producer for ABC TV’s “The World” told Lin’s local contact her “affiliations” were the reason the segment was cancelled.
“It felt really scary for me because this is the first time in the free world that a supposedly-publicly funded TV station is doing this,” Lin said. “My affiliations would be my human rights causes. And… nobody ever had a problem with speaking with me. I never had problem with my credibility.”
The ABC confirmed the cancellation to Business Insider, but said the reasons were business-as-usual. The broadcaster questions if the word “affiliation” was used and, if it was, said its use would have been unintentional.
“With a full hour of different guests, the interview line-ups for The World are subject to frequent change, for all manner of reasons. In this case, we did not have enough time in [the] program to be able to properly address all the issues involved in this topic, due to the need to cover breaking news on the protests and political changes in Jordan and the accusations that Facebook allowed Huawei to access users’ data,” an ABC spokesperson told Business Insider.
“The ABC has done more than any other media outlet to pursue stories relating to all aspects of political, media and security matters both in China and between China and Australia,” the spokesperson added.
Lin’s family members in China have been harassed and threatened by Chinese officials for years, and she found the reason the ABC offered for cancelling her interview concerning.
“My uncle was [once] shown a picture of me and the Dalai Lama by the police. They said that my family is not allowed to see me because of my ‘affiliations’ with anti-China forces such as the ‘Tibetan Separatists.’ That’s why I was shocked by the ‘affiliation’ talk from ABC,” Lin said.
The ABC later released a statement on their website saying the claims have “no basis in fact.”
“No “managers” at the ABC provided the guidance that the story alleges. The producer who is alleged to have “cit(ed) concerns about (Ms Lin’s) ‘affiliations’” does not recall ever using the word ‘affiliations,'” it reads.
Lin, who is in Australia to promote documentaries on foreign interference and organ harvesting by China, said the ABC had no reason to be surprised by her work. She said they received her full profile and links to numerous speeches, including those at the US National Press Club and Oslo Freedom Forum.
A Google search of Lin brings up her work speaking out against persecution of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that has been banned by China. There are also articles about Lin’s own practice of Falun Gong.
Chinese embassies have tried to stop Lin from speaking in the past
The situation in Australia isn’t completely foreign for Lin.
Last year, the Chinese embassy in London contacted a student debating group at Durham University that had invited her to speak on campus.
The official reportedly told the students the embassy has “serious concerns” about the talk, because Lin is “not friendly to the Chinese government.” The official also seemed to make veiled diplomatic threats related to Brexit.
“Especially after the UK leaves the European Union, the prime minister has visited China and reconfirmed that China and the UK are seeking globally strategic collaborations. We don’t think that this kind of debating would make any contribution to these kind of relationship,” the official said in a transcript seen by Buzzfeed News.
“So we thought that we would just let you know that. Take a second and think between this debating and the more grand background of UK-China relations.”
But despite some Chinese students attempting to block the debate venue, Lin spoke in the UK as planned.
Australia is “very red”
Australia’s leaders have been struggling with increasing examples of China’s interference. This week, the government unveiled proposed sweeping new laws to deal with foreign interference and political donations , although ministers say they are not specifically directed at China.
Business Insider recently reported how individuals who advertise businesses in independent Chinese-language media in Australia have been called into consulates for hours-long “tea chats” about their advertisements in an effort to strip funding from critical media.
And it recently emerged that a secret inquiry commissioned by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull uncovered attempts by the CCP to influence all levels of politics. That inquiry also investigated China’s influence attempts on the media and academia.
Before coming to Australia, Lin says she was warned that, on top of China’s influence in media and politics, Australia is “very red.”
“In Australia especially, when you talk about Chinese human rights, people think you’re racist. I find that absolutely absurd. Because I grew up in China and I know how much Chinese people needed that voice from the West,” Lin said.
Lin added: “For the human rights type like me the leverage that we have is our speech, is our expressions. And media is the way to magnify that. If that area is compromised we are left with nothing against the CCP, it can abuse its people and no one will speak up about it.”
This story has been updated to include further comments from the ABC.
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