CCTV Reporter Forced To Hand Over Her Video Tape

(yWeekend)  CCTV Reporter Forced To Hand Over Her Video Tape.  By Xu Ying (徐英).  April 12, 2007.

[in translation]

The CCTV female reporter was expelled from a tour group because she failed to obey the rule that "tourists are not permitted to film" and therefore upset the sponsor.  Meanwhile, the other tourists who did not break the rule fell victim to a shopping scam: the expensive diamond necklace was worth only one-eighth of the sales price; the 10,000 RMB "diamond watch" had only glass and no diamonds.

Such was the experience of CCTV's "Economy 30 minutes" reporter Sun Jing (孙菁) when she joined a three-day Hong Kong tour as an ordinary mainland tourist.  On April 1, the segment "Hong Kong shopping was a scam" was shown on "Economy 30 minutes" and created a huge response.  On April 3, Hong Kong Travel Industry Council chairman Ronnie Ho flew to Beijing on an emergency basis to consult with state travel tourism bureau officials over the matter of supervision.

The reporter Sun Jing told the yWeekend reporter about her experience during the investigation of the "Hong Kong shopping scam": she could not re-charge the battery in her hidden camera; her DV tape was forcibly removed; she was booted out of her tour group; she had the intelligence to leave contact information with two of the tourists in order to obtain first-hand evidence later on.

On March 12, CCTV reporter visited a Shenzhen travel agency as a tourist

Here is Sun Jing's account:

Last year, the "Economy 30 minutes" program received many telephone complaints from people who were scammed by tour guides in Hong Kong and Macau into buying fake merchandise.  It happened that a friend worked at a travel agency and so I consulted with him.  Why are tourists being repeatedly scammed?  Why do tour guides risk their reputations to make tourists shop?

In chatting with this friend, I was most interested in his description of the problems in the system.  Frankly, there is nothing new in the topic of tourist shopping traps.  But in order to discuss the nature behind the event, I need supporting evidence.  Nobody has covered the situation in Hong Kong and Macau previously, and they are popular destinations.  If we really get into this, there will be some public reaction.  So we decided to go ahead.

We decided to find a Hong Kong tour group.  We compared the prices of several travel agencies and we chose the Overseas International Travel Agency in Shenzhen.  They offered the lowest prices at 420 RMB per person for a three day tour.  We suspected that this is the most likely one to have problems.

At 8am on March 13, we left from our hotel to meet the travel agency people at the Huanggang border crossing.  We paid 420 RMB, we got on the bus and 16 adults and one child became a "bauhinia flower group."

Many mainland tour groups to Hong Kong assemble in Shenzhen, because residents from all over China can get together here.  Usually, these individual tourists are sorted into different groups based upon their purchasing ability.  Our group was probably determined to be in the middle range of spending.  This was how the Hong Kong trip began.

We went through Customs and the group leader Ms. Chen collected 100 RMB from each person.  This was extra beyond the 420 RMB group.  We did not videotape this episode because we never expected that they would start collecting money from us as soon as the journey began.

The self-proclaimed assistant guide Ms. Liu presented guide Chen to us after we entered into Hong Kong and told us that he was one of the best tour guides at the travel agency.  Assistant guide Ms. Liu was very stern because she warned us as soon as we got on the bus: "No photographs.  No videos.  This includes the scenery outside.  Hong Kong is a place that takes personal privacy very seriously."

I realized that I cannot film like an ordinary tourist and I must use our hidden camera.

According to the schedule, March 14 was shopping day.  We got on the bus early in the morning, but assistant Liu was not there.  Only guide Chen was present.  I wanted to film his face from the front.  But after the hidden camera was turned on for a few minutes, the cameraman found out that the machine had gone dead.  This was a new camera and we did not know how to operate it.  The battery had run out.  If we encountered that before, we could have gone back to re-charge the batter.  But we no longer had the option.  Did that mean that there would be no film for the program?

So I secretly turned on my DV while they were not paying attention to me.

At past 10am, we were taken to the Wong Tai Sin Temple.  "I could pretend that I was shooting the scenery and capture guide Chen."  But my brilliant idea did not work because as soon as I raised my camera up, guide Chen stopped me: "Didn't I say not to film?"  It was impossible to film him from the front.  In the end, I only got a side profile of guide Chen.

Afterwards, our shopping trip began.  At this time, the man in white made his appearance.

The man in white was a shill that we detected.  At first, we did not realize that.  From the first day, the man in white sat with us.  Nobody suspected his identity.  He just sat in the last row of the bus, three rows behind me.  He was chatting with several middle-aged women in the back.

I heard their chatter vaguely.  They spoke about how they wanted to shop.  The man in white seemed to have mentioned that he sold watches back home.  At the time, I did not pay any attention.

At lunch, the man in white sat facing me.  We were going to buy watches in the afternoon, and everybody was discussing this.  "What watches are good to buy in Hong Kong?" someone asked the man in white.  It seemed that everybody has heard that he sold watches back home.

"Any watch is good.  Hong Kong watches are cheaper than mainland watches by 20% to 30%."

"What is the best brand to buy?"

"Rolex.  Omega.  Rado.  They are all good!"  The man then paused and said in a deliberately mysterious manner: "Actually, there are many good watches in Hong Kong which are international brands that have yet to enter the mainland."  He did not say what these international brands are.  Everybody then asked him how to tell good watches from bad ones.

These exchanges made me wary that something is wrong here.  How could there be such a coincidence?  I decided to film him.  I secretly took off the lens cap and turned the machine on.  But the man in white was very alert and he suddenly pointed to my DV camera: "Miss, you forgot to put on your lens cap."  "Oh, really?"  I pretended to take a look at the camera.  "Oh, yes.  I forgot.  I forgot."

Even more significant was that after lunch, I had a tail behind me.  No matter where I went, the man in white followed me.  After we got out of the watch shop, the tour guide told us that a tourist had left the group.  It was the man in white.

The girl in red is the CCTV reporter.
The man in white on the right is the shill.
The group is waiting at Huanggang to cross over to Hong Kong

I kept using the DV camera to shoot secretly and then it happened.  I entered the watch shop and I took out my DV camera secretly.  But the shop people noticed my action.  Within several minutes, we were called into a room inside the shop.

There were four or five people in there already.  They closed the door.  A fat pale man who claimed to be the manager began to interrogate me.

"What were you doing?"

"We're tourists."  This is a relatively normal answer.  Which tourists do not film?  We stuck to this and there was nothing they could do.

"Didn't you see the 'No filming' sign?"

"Why aren't we allowed to film?"

"This is a private place.  You have violated our personal privacy.  This is against Hong Kong law.  You give us your video tape or else we call the police."

The manager threatened us.  Call the police?  By all means.  But then I thought about it again.  If we have to deal with the police, then I must tell the truth and the whole investigation is over.  Since they outnumbered us, how will they deal with us?  So we were in a stalemate for ten minutes or so.  Finally, I handed my tape over to them.

Unfortunately, the material that we secretly recorded in the jewelry store before coming here was also on that tape.  We did not have any other related footage.

After they took the tape, they let us wait outside the shop.  We had no idea what happened inside.

So the cameraman and I were thinking it over.  Why won't they let us film?  What does it matter to them if we took some films?  Why were they so nervous?  Is there some dirty business in there?  Would they take action against us?

I quickly took out two pieces of paper from my bag and wrote down my name and mobile telephone number.  While the shop attendants were not paying attention, I placed the paper into the hands of two of the male tourists and I said: "When you get back to Shenzhen, please contact us.  We need to contact you for something."  I did not dare to say that we were reporters.  So far, we still had no proof that anything was wrong with this tourist group.  I did not want to blow the matter up.

Two or three minutes later, assistant guide Liu re-appeared after being away for a full day.  Guide Chen disappeared.  It seemed that he had finished his mission of the day and he was leaving assistant Liu to finish up.

"You have offended the sponsoring merchant.  They won't sponsor you anymore.  The money that you gave us will not pay for room and board tomorrow.  Unless you pay us more money, you will have to leave the group."  Assistant Liu said in her usual tone of voice.

"Do you have a tour guide ID?"  I asked angrily.  "Even the Hong Kong police do not have the right to examine our tour guide ID."  Assistant Liu said as she walked away and refused to talk to us again.

The Shenzhen travel agency tour leader Ms. Chen came over and said: "You did not buy anything.  You must write a statement."

"What statement?"

Chen said that any tourists who did not buy anything must write a statement.  We had to write that we were in Hong Kong on business, we did not make any purchases and our videotape was confiscated because we broke the regulations on filming.  Chen said that the statement has to be sent back to Shenzhen because she was held accountable.

Tourists have the right not to make purchases, so we refused to write the statements.  "Impossible.  You must write it."  Ms. Chen gave us a statement that someone else wrote.  In the end, we wrote the statement.  At the time, we had the idea that when we got back to Shenzhen, we would use this statement to visit the travel agency.

After the statement was written out, Ms. Chen faxed it back to Shenzhen.  Shortly afterwards, my telephone rang.  It was the Shenzhen travel agency calling.  "What are you up to?  Are you reporters?"  They were suspicious of us.  "You were asking all sorts of questions when you signed up."


"What do you mean?  We paid our money.  You are leaving us behind!"  I argued with them.

"Impossible.  Once you are in Hong Kong, you come under the people on the other side.  Since you did something wrong, the sponsoring merchant will no longer sponsor you.  There is nothing that we can do.  Unless you pay an extra 400 RMB, you will have to leave."

We thought about it.  Ordinary tourists given this sort of "treatment" would have left for sure.  So we decided to leave.

So that was how we were ousted by the tour guide.  We did not know anyone in Hong Kong.  So we tugged our luggage along and navigated the streets of Hong Kong.  The program was not going to be completed.  I was very angry.

So now I am pinning my hopes on the two slips of paper.  We waited in Shenzhen for a day.  Fortunately, on the evening of March 15, my telephone rang.  Mister Yang of Shandong called, and he was one of the people to whom I gave the paper slip.  Over the telephone, I identified myself.  He told us that when he was walking around the streets of Hong  Kong, he saw that the necklace that he spent $8,500 to buy on the recommendation of the tour guide was being sold at only $1,000 in other shops.  So we set up an appointment for us to meet him the next day.

Mister Yang did not seem to believe us fully.  The next day, we showed him our press cards.  He said: "Identification cards can be forged!"  Perhaps he found it hard to imagine that reporters would appear in his tour group.  Besides, the Hong Kong trip had been vexing to him and he was suspicious.

"Mister Yang, if you don't believe me, you can get on the Internet and look up the information about us."  We recommended him to do that.  He said: "I will contact you when I get back to Shandong."

On March 18, he called us and said that he was willing to appear on camera.  It turned out that after he got home, he asked a friend to take the necklace for appraisal and found problems.  On the morning of March 19, I received the call from Mister Yang and we accompanied me to the State Jewelry Evaluation Center.

The two paper slips worked just as we were in a state of despair.  At after 8pm on March 15, I received a telephone call from an elderly man in the tour group.  Although he did not end up appearing on camera, he provided us with a Seculus diamond watch that he bought for $16,000.

"Xiao Sun.  I am XX from the bauhinia flower group.  We are back in Shenzhen."  After getting my paper slip, the old man did not think too much of it.  On the day of free movement, he visited several watch shops in Hong Kong and got the feedback that no one has heard of the Seculus watch.  That was when he decided to call me.

I told him immediately that I was a reporter and I wanted to talk to him.  He agreed.  After I hung up the telephone, I consulted with my colleagues.  I was worried.  Over the telephone, the old man did not sound very sure.  I was afraid that he would change his mind.  So I called him back again and I asked him whether I could meet him that night.  But he insisted on meeting the next day.

At around 11pm that night, the telephone rang again.  It was the old man.  He said that he could not sleep because he was worried that it might be a fake watch.

"Can we come over now?"

"Oh, my wife just went to sleep.  If you come, you will wake her up.  You should come tomorrow!"

We knew that the couple would be leaving Shenzhen early tomorrow morning.  We were afraid that there would not be enough time.  In the end, the old man agreed to meet that night.

When we go to the hotel, it was past 11pm.  In the hotel lobby, we met the old man who handed me a watch.  After we spoke on the telephone, the old lady got up.  Actually, the old lady realized that there might be a problem with the watch that she paid more than 10,000 RMB to buy and so how could she sleep?  The two discussed the matter and let us take the watch back to Beijing for evaluation.

"I was thinking that I deserve to have a good watch for once in my life.  But who can guess ..."  The old man let me sign a receipt and then he gave me the watch.

The appraisal showed that the diamond-studded watch had only glass and no diamonds.  It was also impossible to return the goods because the packaging was no longer complete.  On March 25, the old couple came to Beijing to retrieve the watch.  The couple who had learned the results of the appraisal did not appear to be overly heart-broken.  As he left, the old man murmured to himself: "The scam artists have really great technique!"  This was really heart-breaking to hear.