Canada’s national public broadcaster is being accused of bowing to pressure from Beijing for a second time after it produced and aired a one-sided exposé smearing Falun Gong, a spiritual group persecuted in China. The program aired last week.
Last November, the CBC pulled and edited a documentary on the persecution of Falun Gong after receiving a phone call from the Chinese embassy complaining about the planned broadcast.
Despite editing the film, titled Beyond the Red Wall, CBC’s website was blocked in China this January, a move the network attributed to airing the documentary. [Please see related articles: CBC Documentary Probes Falun Gong Persecution in China and CBC Pulls TV Documentary After Pressure From Chinese Envoy]
On Thursday, the network’s French-language Radio-Canada channel aired an unusual, one-sided indictment of Falun Gong, portraying the group as a destructive force in Montreal’s Chinatown while giving sympathetic treatment to a Montreal newspaper man who has repeated Beijing’s defamations of the group and called for its eradication in Canada.
The program appears to have surprised even two independent experts who were interviewed by the CBC for the broadcast. One University of Montreal professor told The Epoch Times the network’s chosen slant was “regrettable,” while a former member of parliament who appears in the broadcast called it “grossly unfair.”
Lucy Zhou, a spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, which represents Falun Gong practitioners in the country, went further.
"I'm worried the CBC is catering to Beijing with this program,” she said.
The roughly half-hour program, called “Malaise in Chinatown,” appears as a diatribe against the meditation group. Falun Gong is continually criticized without any counter arguments.
Oddly, many of the harshest words come from the CBC journalist, Ms. Solveig Miller, who calls the group an “omnipresent bothersome religion” that “generates a lot of mistrust outside China.” Miller alleges the group “jostled a fragile peace,” when it arrived in Montreal.
But Falun Gong actually arrived in Montreal in 1996 and there were no reports of controversy until the regime in China began to repress the practice, say local Falun Gong practitioners. Soon after the persecution began in 1999, anti-Falun Gong propaganda began turning up in Chinese-language newspapers, most notably a Montreal newspaper published by Crescent Chau, the protagonist in CBC’s program.
In his newspaper, Chau rallied readers to join in efforts to eradicate Falun Gong in Canada and published special anti-Falun Gong editions with content strikingly similar to those found in state-run press in China.
Chau's newspaper made extraordinary allegations that Falun Gong practitioners cut their stomachs open with knives, kill themselves and others, and that in Montreal, practitioners suck blood, have sex with animals, and commit other disgusting and immoral acts.
The Chinese regime uses such allegations to justify its claim that Falun Gong is a public health threat. But Human Rights Watch has a different perspective. "The danger to health comes from the treatment its practitioners receive at the hands of the police and prison officials," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch in a report on the persecution of Falun Gong.
Falun Gong is actually a traditional Chinese meditation practice based on cultivating truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance in one's daily life.
The CBC report did not mention the content of Chau’s articles, nor that Chau continued publishing the content after two court orders demanded that he cease.
Instead, Chau was described simply as the owner of one of Chinatown’s oldest newspapers and someone who had lived in Canada for 30 years. The CBC said Chau was “exasperated” by Falun Gong practitioners who had filed a lawsuit against him.
Approached by CBC
It was not long after CBC's website was blocked in China that Lucy Zhou says she was approached by CBC’s Miller.
Zhou was told the network was doing a story about Chau’s newspaper and Falun Gong in Montreal’s Chinatown, she says. Producer Leon Laflamme told her that they did not want to talk about the persecution, which Zhou considered essential context because Chau’s newspaper had been repeating the Chinese regime’s propaganda, and had only started doing so after the persecution began in China. Zhou added that the group’s case against Chau was still before the courts and declined the interview request.
Zhou spent several hours discussing the matter with CBC she said.
It was the first time the Falun Dafa Association of Canada had declined such a request. Yet the broadcast did not mention Zhou’s reasons for declining the interview and instead portrayed her refusal as a fear of the press.
When The Epoch Times called Miller to ask about the report, she was quick to get off the phone. She said she was in a meeting, and that CBC was “looking into the matter” and hung up. She did not answer the phone when we called back, nor return messages.
David Ownby, an expert in popular Chinese religions who has studied Falun Gong, is one of two experts CBC interviewed for the report who say their comments were selectively used. Although Ownby expressed that he is sympathetic to Falun Gong's cause, he said that was not reflected in the clips CBC used in its broadcast.
In fact, Prof. Ownby had testified as an expert witness in the lawsuit Falun Gong practitioners filed against Chau in Montreal. In court, he called Chau's articles “unsubstantiated filth poured upon the page." CBC made no mention of Ownby’s critiques of Chau.
Yet in Ownby's opinion, Falun Gong practitioners erred in declining CBC's interview request.
“That enables them to paint the Falun Gong as secretive and difficult and paranoid. It played into the hands of someone that does not want to portray you well,” he said.
Ownby believes that by providing more information to journalists, the group could dispel ideas that the group is secretive.
But Ms. Zhou disagrees.
"It was clear they had an agenda. Accepting their interview would have only given a guise of objective journalism to their biased attack," she said.
Though human rights groups and governments agree Falun Gong is among the most severely persecuted groups in China, “Malaise in Chinatown” looked at only one element of persecution faced by Falun Gong: the reports of organ harvesting. And the program set out to refute that organ harvesting was taking place without providing any of the supporting evidence.
CBC interviewed longtime MP David Kilgour, Canada’s former Secretary of State for Asia Pacific. Kilgour investigated allegations of organ snatching from Falun Gong practitioners and co-authored a report titled “Bloody Harvest” with renowned human rights lawyer David Matas.
The report details a variety of evidence that, when taken together, led the authors to conclude Falun Gong practitioners are the victims of organ harvesting.
The CBC made no mention of the evidence in Kilgour and Matas’s report, nor that their findings had been endorsed by high-profile figures like the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, along with prominent physicians and professors.
Following the Kilgour-Matas report, the British Transplantation Society expressed concern about coercive organ donation in China. Dr. Tom Treasure, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said the allegations are credible.
The Australian government has called on the Chinese to allow an independent investigation into the claims, while two major transplant hospitals in Australia banned the training of Chinese surgeons for fear they may participate in organ harvesting.
The U.S. Congress held a hearing in September 2006 on organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. At its conclusion, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher urged the U.S. government to take actions to stop these crimes.
Although CBC spoke with Kilgour for around 20 minutes, he said they must not have liked his answers because they only used about 10 words, none of which included evidence of organ harvesting.
“I guess my bottom line would be that the program was grossly unfair to the people who are concerned about the issue of organ pillaging from Falun Gong,” said Kilgour.
“David Matas and I have been in about 45 countries talking about this issue and I think I can say that I have never seen such an unfair representation of our position.”
“When I was a journalist, you were supposed to try and give both sides fair treatment, and from this program, clearly there was no attempt to give fair treatment to both sides.”
It is not the first time that CBC has left out Kilgour’s comments on organ harvesting. The former MP was interviewed last year in a program discussing human rights in the lead-up to the Beijing Games. The CBC used only a few words from the interview and made no mention of organ harvesting against Falun Gong, the core of Kilgour’s research.
And then in November of last year CBC pulled the Red Wall documentary. Among the most significant edits made were to cut out material supporting the reports of organ harvesting.
Zhou says the pattern is alarming and suggests the CBC is trying to help the regime cover-up these reports.
David Matas, the award-winning human rights lawyer who co-authored the organ harvesting report with Kilgour, says the CBC’s latest report struck him as “ignorant.”
“The reporter was trying to report on the Falun Gong but really didn’t understand anything of the nature of Falun Gong. I think it manifested religious intolerance.”
Matas, familiar with the history of how the ”Malaise in Chinatown” developed over the last several months, said it seemed the reporter believed Falun Gong to be a tightly structured organization with significant funds and went about trying to prove that point.
“This is not a balanced or fair inquiry into the Falun Gong. It’s an indictment against the Falun Gong set up by the reporter.”
“It was trying, I guess, to set up an artificial and symmetrical conflict within Chinatown. It was just ignorant. It didn’t understand and didn’t report accurately.”