Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Journalist alleges Chinese news agency assigned him to spy

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OTTAWA -- A Canadian journalist says he quit working for China's news agency because it wanted him to spy on the Dalai Lama in Ottawa.

But the Ottawa bureau chief of China's Xinhua news agency dismissed that claim as "Cold War" ideology.

Ottawa-based freelance journalist and author Mark Bourrie makes the allegation against the Xinhua news service in an article published in Ottawa Magazine and in an interview with The Canadian Press. The matter will likely revive debate around the long-standing issue of whether Xinhua is an intelligence-gathering front for the Chinese government instead of a legitimate news service.

Bourrie, 55, said he resigned in April after working two years for Xinhua in Ottawa because its Ottawa bureau chief, Dacheng Zhang, wanted him to use his parliamentary press pass to gain access to the Dalai Lama's final news conference and turn over all notes and materials without writing a story.

Bourrie says the agency collected hours of video and other notes of the Dalai Lama's most recent trip to Ottawa on April 27 and 28, but it wasn't interested in publishing a story on the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Chinese government considers the Dalai Lama its enemy.

Zhang, currently travelling with other Canadian journalists on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's annual tour of the Arctic, denied Bourrie's claim Wednesday.

Zhang told The Canadian Press Xinhua's policy is to "cover public events by public means," and his bureau's job is to cover news events and file the stories to Xinhua's editing rooms. It is up to them to decide how and what to publish, Zhang said, calling those decisions internal matters.

Bourrie said the parliamentary press gallery should review Xinhua's journalistic access to Parliament Hill and other Ottawa events because the credentials it has issued are being used to gather information for a foreign government, not solely for media reports.

"The core issue is how much access we're willing to give to people who are both journalists and agents of the Chinese government in Ottawa," he said in an interview.

"When the crunch came with the Dalai Lama, it was obvious they weren't working as reporters anymore, that they were working as agents of the Chinese government."

Chris Rands, the press gallery's president, said its executive is "aware of a disagreement" between Bourrie and Xinhua.

"The executive has asked both sides to come and explain their views."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2012 A9

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