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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

CBC yanks doc after pressure from Chinese embassy

Persecution of Falun Gong subject of program

James Cowan, National Post -Published: Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The CBC postponed the airing of a documentary about the Falun Gong spiritual movement after receiving calls from the Chinese embassy expressing concern about the film's subject matter.

Beyond the Red Wall: The Persecution of the Falun Gong was scheduled to appear on Tuesday evening on CBC Newsworld. It was replaced at the last minute by a rerun of a documentary on Pervez Musharraf, the President of Pakistan. The broadcaster says it changed its schedule because recent turmoil in Pakistan made the Musharraf documentary "timely."

However, a spokesman acknowledged the CBC has received calls from Chinese diplomats about Beyond the Red Wall and intends to review the documentary's contents before returning it to its broadcast schedule.

Members of Falun Gong outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. The group is outlawed in China and its members face persecution in that country. (Jon Murray/CanWest News Service)View Larger Image View Larger Image

Members of Falun Gong outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver. The group is outlawed in China and its members face persecution in that country. (Jon Murray/CanWest News Service)

"We were contacted by the Chinese embassy and they've just expressed their concern that the doc be accurate - that's not a problem with us," said Jeff Keay, adding, "We're having conversations with the doc's producer just to review its contents and make sure it's a good solid documentary."

Peter Rowe, who wrote and directed the documentary, said a CBC executive called him late on Tuesday afternoon to inform him that the film would not air that evening. The executive also asked if Mr. Rowe could come to a meeting to discuss "re-editing" his documentary.

"It's rather surprising, because the film has been in production for about three years and was delivered to the CBC in March, so the authorities and the executives at the CBC signed off on the film quite some time ago," Mr. Rowe said.

Mr. Rowe, a television veteran with credits spanning three decades, said the CBC's decision to revisit the film after giving it final approval is odd.

"It's almost unheard of," he said, adding, "You really have to question why they decided to cancel it at this insanely late hour."

But Mr. Keay said last-minute changes are quite common and that Beyond the Red Wall will eventually be broadcast.

"Often documentaries are edited right up until hours or minutes before a show gets to air," he said.

The CBC's Web site describes Beyond the Red Wall as a "point-of-view" documentary the focuses on the story of Kunlun Zhang, a professor at McGillUniversity and a Falun Gong practitioner, who spent nearly three years in a Chinese labour camp.

The documentary has already appeared on television in Spain, Portugal and New Zealand and aired in French on Radio-Canada last month.

Falun Gong is a religious sect that integrates meditation and exercise. The Chinese government outlawed its practice in 1999, describing Falun Gong as a cult and accusing its leaders of practising mind control over followers and posing a risk to society.

Speaking on behalf of the CBC, Mr. Keay said Chinese officials did not raise specific issues about Beyond the Red Wall, but seemed more concerned about the airing of any documentary that may sympathetically portray Falun Gong and its practitioners.

"It's not unusual for us to come under pressure from all directions for the documentaries that we do," Mr. Keay said. "We will always take phone calls from people -- be it members of the public or other interested parties. And we take those calls under advisement."

David Matas, a Canadian lawyer who represented Mr. Zhang and recently co-authored a report on Chinese organ harvesting with David Kilgour, a former secretary of state, described the CBC's actions as "reprehensible."

"The CBC should not be the mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party and that is what it has become in this instance by behaving in this way," Mr. Matas said. "In my view, the CBC becomes complicit in the Chinese censorship of the Falun Gong by doing this."

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

National Post
jcowan@nationalpost.com

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