When it comes to covering Falun Gong, both the English and French branches of CBC have adopted a view of the world disturbingly similar to that of the Communist Party of China.
Falun Gong is a spiritual movement that combines ancient Chinese traditions, Buddhist and Taoist practices, and qi gong exercises. Founder Li Hongzhi began writing and speaking about Falun Gong in 1992. The movement took off, growing to a Chinese government estimate of 70 to 100 million practitioners by 1999. The growth was partly attributable to encouragement by the Chinese government itself, which was impressed by Falun Gong’s health benefits.
But in 1999 then-President Jiang Zemin — out of jealousy that something an outsider proposed could become so popular while his own “Three Represents” writings languished in confusion and obscurity — spurred the government to ban the practice. To justify the banning, the Communist Party of China (CPC) developed a conspiracy fantasy. All those individuals engaging on their own or in small groups in harmless, indeed healthful, exercises, the CPC alleged, were part of some vast organization aimed at overthrowing communist rule.
The persecution began first by arrests, then by torture, then by disappearance. It did not take long, as David Kilgour and I concluded in a report released in July, 2006, for the disappeared to become the source of organs sold to transplant tourists for huge sums.
In 2007, the CBC announced that it was broadcasting a TV documentary by Peter Rowe on the persecution of the Falun Gong in China, which featured our report. But the government of China leaned on the CBC, and the CBC pulled the show. It was replaced in the scheduled time slot with an old documentary on Pakistan.
The CBC went back to the producer and asked for changes. He initially balked, and then made some edits. But the changes he made weren’t enough for Beijing. The CBC made more changes on its own after the producer refused to co-operate anymore, and then broadcast its concocted product.
Not to be outdone by the CBC, French-language Radio Canada went one further in a show that aired in Oct., 2008.
The origins of that broadcast originate with La Presse Chinoise, a Montreal-area Chinese weekly newspaper, which in 2001 published standard Communist Party propaganda against Li Hongzhi and the Falun Gong — material that was, according to the Quebec Court of Appeal, defamatory. The libels eventually led Falun Gong practitioners to protest in front of the offices of the La Presse Chinoise.
Radio Canada reported these protests in a way that would have warmed the heart of the most hardened Chinese Communist Party bureaucrat. Falun Gong was depicted as an organization that is “highly structured” with “no shortage of money,” composed of different organs working in lockstep. This mythical organization was then blamed for tension in Montreal’s Chinatown — because some practitioners had the nerve to protest their being libelled by La Presse Chinoise.
Radio Canada preyed on the ignorance of the Canadian public to propagate the Communist Party line, blaming the victims for protesting their victimization, adding to the propaganda by describing the Falun Gong as “little known and bothersome,” “whose presence creates malaise.”
Why are CBC and Radio Canada behaving as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party? Is it the identification of one bureaucracy with another? Is it nostalgia for the socialist values that the Communist Party used to embody?
Whatever the explanation, the distortions the public broadcaster brings to China and the Falun Gong are regrettable. When it comes to reporting on China and the Falun Gong, it is time CBC/Radio Canada started to reflect Canadian values instead of Chinese Communist Party values.
David Matas is an international human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg.