In September 2007, leaders from 21 Asia-Pacific nations and thousands of delegates and journalists gathered in Sydney for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Sydney had thus become the focal point of the world's attention.
On September 6, 2007, Alexander Downer, the then Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, was going to host the first large-scale press conference about APEC; and I was going to attend the conference as a reporter of New Tang Dynasty Television.
I was not sure how the press conference would be like, or whether I would have the opportunity to ask any questions. I knew that there must be hundreds of journalists at the conference; and everyone would want to ask questions.
But I did have prepared a question though, a question which I believed was very important to ask. Fearing that I would be too nervous to speak in English, which is only my second language, I wrote down my question and managed to memorize it on the train to the press conference at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.
Upon arriving at the venue for the conference, I found it was a fairly large hall, which could hold hundreds of people. As I had arrived very early, I had the freedom to choose where to sit.
I assumed that Mr. Downer would be the one who would decide which journalists could ask questions by directly pointing to the journalists who had questions, so I sat on the central seat of the first row. I believed that was the closest seat to Mr. Downer, who was going to speak from the center of the stage. When he looked down at the journalists, it was very easy for him to see me who would be closest to him.
Many other journalists soon arrived one by one; and the hall became almost full.
And then arrived Mr. Downer and Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss. They sat behind the desk on the stage; and Mr. Downer gave a very short speech, briefing the journalists about what had happened at the APEC so far.
Then he asked, "Questions?"
Immediately a forest of arms shot up into the air. Almost every journalist raised his or her arm. I looked behind me and saw a very young female conference staff member standing in the middle of one of the aisles in the hall with a wireless microphone in her hand, totally at loss as to whom she should give the microphone to. It only became obvious to me then that whoever was given the microphone would be the one who could ask a question. So it was that young lady who would decide who was going to ask a question, not Mr. Downer himself.
Then I realized that I had made a big mistake by choosing the central seat of the front row. For the young lady who was standing in the middle of the large hall, I was too far, at least 100-130 feet (or 30-40 meters) away from her. And there were at least several dozens of erected arms between us.
Seeing that she was obviously overwhelmed by the forest of arms and was still hesitating as to whom she should hand her microphone, I looked at her and firmly speak to her in my mind, "Give your mic to me." I don't know whether she received my mind "signal" or not, but she really started walking down towards the front; and stopped at the first row. Then she made a very big effort to lean over to get across all the raised arms between her and me, and really handed the mic into my hand.
Thus, to the envy of every journalist in the hall, I became the "chosen" one who could ask the first question. It was very lucky that I had prepared myself; and therefore I wasn't overwhelmed by the tense situation.
Holding the "precious" mic in my hand, I turned around to face Mr. Downer, and asked my question with very a loud and clear voice:
"Last year, when Mr. David Kilgour, former Secretary of State for Canada and the co-author of the 'Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China,' visited Australia, the Australian government agreed that an international investigation into the allegations of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s organ harvesting should be conducted. Mr. Kilgour has now come here again, to call on APEC leaders to pay attention to this issue. My question is, during the past year, what has the Australian government done regarding the investigation?"
It seemed as if my question had set off a bomb in the hall, everybody was so shocked, with Mr. Downer's facing turning pale and then red and then pale again.
The "background" situation of the "bomb blast" was: The allegation of CCP's mass live organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners had just been broken for about one year. The majority of the "mainstream" media had been too "scared" or too "cautious" to cover this issue, so many of the journalists in the hall might have never heard about it then.
And for Mr Downer, he had just virtually lost a lawsuit brought against him by Australian Falun Gong practitioners for depriving their right to peacefully protest in front of the Chinese Embassy. Before the lawsuit, Mr. Downer had been issuing certificates to restrict Falun Gong practitioners' rights to protest, obviously under the pressure of the CCP. So for him, my question could be a very difficult one to respond.
After some awkward silence, he said something along the lines that Australian government did have made some investigation and had not found any evidence to prove that the allegations were true.
I didn't have a chance ask how they made the investigation, whether it was just a phone call to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, as the conference quickly moved on to other questions.
Three days later, John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, was going to host another press conference at the same place. This time I also arrived very early. To my surprise, and to every journalist's surprise, we heard an announcement from the audio system inside the Convention and Exhibition Centre that all journalists needed to write down their questions and submit them to the conference staff BEFORE Prime Minister's press conference. Then somebody would choose which questions to answer.
I heard many journalists were cursing and expressing their outrage for this new "rule". Some felt puzzled why they suddenly changed the way for journalists to ask questions; some worried that their questions would surely not be selected、、.And I thought to myself, "It must be because of that 'awkward' question I asked at Mr. Downer's press conference. They didn't want to have similar things to happen again."
Feeling that this time my question would surely not be selected, I chose to sit in the middle of the hall. When the Prime Minister was answering the pre-screened and chosen questions, I suddenly found an emotional young lady was sitting next to me, weeping and trembling, obviously very, very upset. She whispered to me that she was Sarah Matheson, a photographer from the New Zealand Office of the English Epoch Times and that she had just been physically removed by the security guards from a group photo event although she did have media accreditation to cover that event. She learned that it was because the CCP leader didn't want her to be there.
Sarah Matheson: "I'm upset they put media freedom behind the wishes of the Chinese government." Photo credit: The Epoch Times
I could see how badly she was feeling for being treated in such a way. As a timid young lady growing up in a free country, she found very hard to handle this kind of situation. She then asked me whether I could help her to ask the Prime Minister why they treated a journalist in this way.
But、、.as all the questions had already been submitted before the press conference, how could I ask the question unless I shouted out? But shouting out loudly was obviously "out of the place" at that occasion, shall I shout or not?