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Monday, November 12, 2007

Bowing to Beijing: Chinese Broadcasting Corporation

Look here for some insights.

Lorne Gunter, National Post - Published: Monday, November 12, 2007

Just imagine how easy it's going to be for the CBC to adapt to its new ownership. It won't even have to change its initials. Now that it has become the Chinese Broadcasting Corporation -- taking programming direction from the People's Republic's embassy in Ottawa -- it can still keep the old "CBC" designation it had when it was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

That must be especially great news for the CBC gift shop; no need to reorder all those mugs, caps, golf shirts and jackets.

And the graphic designers won't have to redo all those network ID spots that air between shows.

Even the re-education process for the broadcaster's executives shouldn't take all that long -- given the ideological headstart so many of them have.

Tuesday evening, just hours before it was to air, Mother Corp yanked a documentary entitled Beyond the Red Wall, an expose on the Chinese government's brutal repression of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement the Communists consider a threat to their iron grip on power.

It seems their Ottawa embassy objected to the film's claims (well documented by several sources and international rights groups) that its government arbitrarily imprisons, tortures and uses Falun Gong members for slave labour. Two Canadian human rights advocates, former MP David Kilgour and lawyer David Matas, even established last year that China executes Falun Gong members so it may harvest their hearts, livers, kidneys and corneas for transplants.

Based on a single call from their new cultural commissars, CBC pulled the documentary and promised to re-edit it before showing it later this month.

Instead of Beyond the Red Wall, CBC reran an older piece on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, which aired unedited despite the fact its unflattering portrayal of the general-cum-president no doubt rankles the Pakistani government. But when you aren't hosting next year's Olympics, and you can't threaten the CBC's contract to air the games ? well, you follow the dots.

What followed from corporate spokesmen was a flood of oily and preposterous rationalizations and equivocations.

"We want to make sure it's an absolutely rigorous piece of work because there's a lot of interest in the thing," Jeff Keay, CBC's media relations head, told the Toronto Star. "We want to make sure it's a solid piece of work that will stand up to intense scrutiny." Huh? Does that mean CBC is prepared to broadcast unsubstantiated programming when no one is watching?

The network denied it was preparing to censor the documentary, but rather was simply doing its "due diligence." Meaning it didn't do due diligence in March when it took delivery of the finished documentary from producer Peter Rowe and both its executives and lawyers signed off on its contents? It didn't do due diligence when it aired it once before at 4 a.m. or when it aired it last week in Quebec in French?

And since when does Mother Corp decide to review its documentaries for accuracy only after it has spent a week using its promotions machinery to flog the broadcast's date and time? Does the "public" broadcaster really expect us to believe it hadn't reviewed and fact-checked Beyond until the afternoon before it was supposed to be shown? That it suddenly developed concerns about the piece after the Chinese called, but those concerns had nothing to do with that call?

In a pointed response to a critical posting on a Falun Gong blog by Toronto broadcaster John Oakley, Mr. Keay insisted: "Rather than risk the credibility of an important piece of documentary filmmaking commissioned by the CBC, we chose to alter our calendar to allow further reporting. The documentary will be broadcast on Tuesday, Nov. 20. We make no apologies for changing our viewing schedule in the cause of producing the most truthful and credible work possible."

All right, then. If that is the CBC's new standard, Mr. Keay, can we expect that forthcoming smear jobs on Conservative politicians, global warming sceptics, gun owners, advocates of private health care and others with views that diverge from those of the average network exec will be similarly held up based on a single phone call until more accurate reporting can be done?

No? I thought not.

lgunter@shaw.ca

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