A group of television networks applying for a license to broadcast in Canada have been accused of an unusual breech of journalistic standards.
State-run Chinese TV stations seeking a spot on Canada's airwaves, feigned news stories, threatened interviewees with labour camp sentences, and even subjected them to mental and physical torture, say two Canadians who were featured in programs the networks produced.
In their submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is expected to make a ruling soon on whether the nine channels (dubbed the "Great Wall package" in marketing materials) gain broadcasting rights in Canada, the two tell shocking, yet remarkably similar stories.
"We were the first victims of this hate program," says Jin Jin, a young software engineer and practitioner of the spiritual discipline called Falun Gong who managed to immigrate to Canada with her husband and two-year-old son in 2005. She says she and her family were forced to be a part of a program in 1999 produced by China Central Television (CCTV), the communist regime's main television network, and one of the nine applying for a license in Canada.
In July, 1999, the Chinese regime outlawed Falun Gong. The practice, which combines meditation with moral teachings based on 'truthfulness, compassion and tolerance,' gained a following of over 70 million adherents in China in the late 1990s. Apparently seeing its popularity as a threat to the state's atheist ideology, the communist regime resolved to stomp out the practice with the help of a pervasive propaganda campaign, and by torturing and "re-educating" adherents.
Soon after the official ban was announced, Jin was put in a "transformation class" along with her husband, mother, and about 50 coworkers from the Geophysical Research Institute in Hebei Province, 70 km west of Beijing, where she worked. All were adherents of Falun Gong. All were ordered to sign confession statements repenting their practice and promising not to continue.
Over the three weeks Jin spent in detention, she was under constant pressure to give up her belief. Anti-Falun Gong programs blasted from the TV daily. Anyone refusing to sign a statement was told they would not return to work. Jin recalls a young man who was caught carrying a samizdat of Falun Gong teachings in the class. "They beat him halfway to death," she says.
Jin's younger brother, a university student at the time, was detained in the same class. He was told his education was finished if he did not renounce Falun Gong.
All faced the threat of labour camp sentences, which can be handed down in China without trial.
But seeing that Jin and her family members were slow to cooperate, the authorities offered them another way out: accept an interview with a television crew and your problems will go away, they were told. Jin and her mother agreed.
One day in August a crew from CCTV arrived at the family home, flanked by top party representatives from Jin's work unit.
"This is a highly educated family. It would be a convincing case," Jin recalls the communist party secretary for her work unit saying.
Jin began the interview describing how Falun Gong had helped her husband recover after a serious accident in 1997 and how the family had benefited from the practice. The reporter was not satisfied, Jin says, and pressed her to say something else.
"She wrote down two points for me," recalls Jin.
Jin became fearful as all eyes fell on her and the reporter continued to press. "We were so overwhelmed," she says. "You know, when the party secretary of your workplace comes to you and orders you to do something, you simply have no choice."
Jin buckled and repeated the lines before a rolling camera:
"As a scientist, I should believe in science instead of superstition. I can't believe in an evil religion that used to make me really crazy."
"I'm a software engineer and I should spend time improving my work. In the past, I spent most of my leisure time practicing Falun Gong. Now I've realized just how wrong I was."
More statements followed from Jin's mother. It was enough for CCTV to produce a carefully-edited program called "Living a new life," purporting that the family had been rescued from the claws of a dangerous belief.
"The family did not long for the Falun Gong, and laughter has returned to the home," announced the narrator at the end of the program.
The segment aired on national television in China and has been circulated in other countries as well.
In exchange for cooperating with the television station, Jin was spared torture and detention in a labour camp, but she says she still lives with the remorse.
"We felt that we had betrayed our faith even though we had benefited so much from practicing Falun Gong," she wrote in her submission to the CRTC. "The guilt has been wearing away at us ever since."
China International Television Corporation (CITVC), a subsidiary of CCTV and the agent for the nine Chinese channels, rejected Jin Jin's statement.
In its response to CRTC, the Chinese state-controlled CITVC said all four members of the CCTV team responsible for the program confirmed Jin Jin "voluntarily" accepted her interview that day and that what she said was also "voluntary."
Jin Jin stood by her account.
Canadian Professor Says He Faced Electric Shocks, Then a Rolling Camera
Unlike Jin, Kunlun Zhang, a Canadian citizen and acclaimed sculptor, did not escape torture.
Zhang, 65, gained Canadian citizenship in 1995. While working as dean of an art university in his homeland of China in 2000, he was arrested and sent without trial to a forced labour camp. He stayed there until, with the help of Amnesty International, he was rescued back to Canada in early 2001.
While in detention, Zhang says he was tortured with electric shocks. He was deprived of sleep as labour camp staff repeatedly pressed him to renounce Falun Gong. Guards threatened that they were authorized by the central government to kill him and count his death as suicide, he says.
After weeks, Zhang's will was worn down.
Labour camp guards asked him to paint and play chess. They secretly recorded his actions and spliced it into a TV program showing his "happy life" in labour camp. The program again aired on CCTV networks both inside China and overseas.
"The blow to my spirit was so immense that I felt I'd rather die," says Zhang.
But despite the serious accusations, Rogers Cable, which has sponsored the Chinese channels' licence bid, has stood by the stations.
"…the addition of the nine services in the package to the Digital List would, in our view, be consistent with Commission policy and the objectives of the Broadcasting Act," wrote Rogers VP Pamela Dinsmore in her nine-page reply to the CRTC.
Dinsmore said there was a lack of evidence that the stations had incited hate or violated Canadian laws and she asserted there was broad support for the addition of the networks in the Chinese community.
She quoted a letter from Chinese Ambassador Lu Shumin, who defended the channels, saying "It is completely untrue and groundless to accuse the Great Wall package of being propaganda tools of the Communist Party of China."
However, the website for the China Radio Film and Television Group, which oversees all nine of the applicant channels, describes itself as "an important mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, an important cultural battlefield for the CCP and our country."
Lu's Embassy has also distributed an English version of the CCTV program about Jin's family.
The CRTC is scheduled to make a decision on the nine channels in the coming weeks.
Additional reporting by Maggie Ma