Sky News reporter Mark Stone suggests early on, in his live broadcast from the back of a Chinese police van, that one word got him there: 1989. He had been broadcasting from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, probably a routine story on the just-a-formality election of Xi Jinping as president of China, when he mentioned the 1989 protests.
Police quickly ushered Stone and his crew into a van and, apparently sometime later (it’s sunny when he gets into the van, dark when he gets out), unloads them at what appears to be a park or school where they’re politely but insistently detained.
What’s amazing about this is that Stone is broadcasting live the entire time. At one point, he says right into the camera that he thinks this is only being allowed because the police believe they’re recording it all to tape. (If you saw a guy carrying a camera that was light enough for him to put on his shoulder but wasn’t plugged in to any obvious broadcast equipment, you’d probably think the same thing.)
What typically happens in these situations is that the police detain the journalists who have caused offense and later force them to relinquish whatever they’ve recorded, as Shanghai police did to a BBC team last month. But, in this case, it’s not until an English-speaking officer arrives that they figure out what’s happening.
At this point, the police do something Orwellian in its brilliance. An officer who speaks English informs Stone that they have to stop filming because they don’t have official permission. Stone disagrees, saying that they sought and received permission to film in Tiananmen Square. But the officer counters that they’re not in Tiananmen anymore. They’re in a park where the police have brought Stone against his will, and he doesn’t have permission to record in that park, so regrettably the police have no choice but to insist the camera be switched off. Who could have possibly foreseen that little complication?
The officer then takes the Orwellianism to the next level by explaining that Stone and his team are neither being detained nor are they free to go. They can do whatever they like, except that they must go sit in an empty classroom and wait for some unnamed officials to show up.
“This is a classic example of the way things seem to work sometimes in China,” Stone says. He adds, though, that the officers have been “utterly civil.” And, by all evidence, they have. It’s quite a performance all around.