Former ABC weatherman Edwin Maher behind the news desk of China’s English language CCTV channel – where he was the first non-Asian anchor on television
A well known ABC weatherman ended up as the face of Chinese state media in a bizarre career turn – and candidly revealed what life is like inside in a never-before-published interview.
Media personality Edwin Maher was a Melbourne TV sensation in the 1990s, famous for using quirky objects, such as carrots and ice cream cones, as pointers while presenting the weather.
But Mr Maher’s broadcast career then took a remarkable lurch to Beijing when he was appointed the first non-Asian anchor of the country’s English language news programs in 2004.
Candid observations Mr Maher made in a 2016 interview about working in Chinese state media can now be revealed – as Australia is repeatedly slammed by Chinese state-run newspapers and a fellow presenter of Mr Maher’s, Cheng Lei, is detained for unknown reasons.
At the time, Mr Maher bristled at suggestions he might feel ‘guilty’ working for state TV outlet CCTV ‘because somebody might think we’re mouthpieces of the government.’
‘I think that’s ridiculous,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Maher became something of a sensation in Melbourne for using objects such as carrots to point at the weather forecast – before becoming a news anchor for Chinese state media
Maher with one of his iconic pointers updating Melbourne on its winter weather in the 1990s
But Mr Maher, who, aged in his 70s, has since retired, was candid in admitting that China’s ‘official view’ was often at the forefront of the station’s reporting.
‘You’re trying to figure out if we’re censored or not?’ he asked. ‘Obviously the news will at times present the Chinese point of view.’
Mr Maher said the state perspective was more ‘in your face’ when he started working there more than a decade ago.
Then, the channel would refuse to broadcast video of the elected leader of Taiwan. The democratic island is seen by the Chinese government as a breakaway province.
But Mr Maher said the door had opened ‘a hell of a lot wider’ since. State media now reports on criticisms of China’s positions, and knows it must, given it competes internationally with the likes of the BBC.
‘If there was some dispute in trade with the United States calling Chinese currency manipulators, the view from China – the official view – would be very much to the forefront,’ Mr Maher recalled.
‘Now I mean it still is, but we’re also making the point if there is a dispute, we will say what the criticism of China is, be it anything to do with trade or be it to do with the South China Sea issue which is always in the headlines.
‘From that point of view things have really changed.’
Australian CGTN anchor Cheng Lei (right) has been arrested with no reason given
Ms Lei (right) kept an online diary of life in China during the coronavirus outbreak
‘Some things’ – such as the Tiananmen Square massacre – aren’t referred to in CCTV reporting. Above, the famous ‘Tank Man’ photo
Asked about issues that are famously known to be censored in China, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Mr Maher flatly said it was a ‘fact of life’ that some issues weren’t discussed.
‘We (sleep) here, we work here, we know there are some things that are reported and others that aren’t,’ he said.
‘It’s just a fact of life.
‘What would you expect us to do? Would you expect us to circumnavigate it and put a message through? … No, it’s not going to happen.
‘Every network has their own agenda or its own rules and regulations. People will say they have their own biases. Even the ABC is always going to be accused of it.’
Mr Maher’s interview – where he did not criticise the government – was given years before today’s geopolitical tensions between China and Australia over issues including the coronavirus, the South China Sea and trade.
Relations have become so fraught Chinese ministers do not answer calls from their Australian counterparts. Meanwhile, state media outlet The Global Times – widely seen as a government mouthpiece – has repeatedly slammed Australia, this week suggesting it could become the ‘poor white trash’ of Asia.
Tensions between China and Australia have escalated this year with ministers refused to even pick up the phone to each other
Chinese state media tabloid, The Global Times, has repeatedly lashed Australia and recently warned it could become the ‘poor white man of Asia’
CHENG LEI ARRESTED: HOW JOURNALIST WROTE ONLINE DIARY
An Australian journalist arrested in China with no reasons given had penned an online diary about the country’s response to the coronavirus.
Cheng Lei, an English-language presenter with the state-owned China Global Television Network since 2012, wrote withering Facebook posts about the Communist Party.
The Beijing-based business journalist, who studied in Brisbane and Melbourne, mocked the earlier lockdown in Wuhan in March.
‘The hottest word in Chinese social media is “gratitude”, brought up by Wang Zhonglin the Wuhan party secretary at a press conference two days ago, in the context of asking Wuhan residents to be be “grateful (to the party, to Dear Leader)”,’ she wrote.
‘It immediately blew up the internet. Even in China, where the pool of material for satire never runs low, this is too rich.’
The host of CGTN’s Biz Talk TV show also slammed the hypocritical nature of China’s Communist Party leadership.
‘In China, the belief “do as I say, not as I do” runs deep in public office,’ she said on March 8
In the interview, New Zealand born-broadcaster Mr Maher, now in his 70s, vehemently defended the integrity of CCTV’s and said the country was a ‘very exciting place to be.’
‘This is the fastest developing part of the world,’ he noted. ‘Things don’t happen here in a little way’.
In 2009 he even featured on a float in a parade which celebrated the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China.
‘I’ve always enjoyed mixing with the locals,’ he said, adding locals often stopped him for photos on the Subway and posted their selfies on his Weibo page.
Australia has become ‘very well known’ in China since he moved overseas – and he said the two countries’ people had a lot in common.
‘They’re all just the same as you. They want the good things in life. The family is very much paramount in their thinking.
‘That’s always been the way and I think it always will be … We’re all wanting the best for ourselves and our families.’
And some things don’t change.
Best known in Australia for his zany appearances, Mr Maher said he brought his sense of his sense of humour to Chinese airwaves.
‘I still like to ad lib on TV. We have that holiday where people eat mooncakes, the mid autumn festival.
‘At the end of the news i said someone had sent me this mooncake i picked it up and ate it.
‘That was uploaded and has become quite a popular video … People like that, taking the mickey.’
Mr Maher, a widower, retired in 2017, when the outlet renamed to CGTN.
He has three children who live in Australia.