Conservative MP calls on Ottawa to ban Chinese state broadcasters from airwaves

People walk past the CCTV main building, home of China's state broadcaster CCTV and its foreign affiliate CGTN, in Beijing February 4, 2021.  (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press - photo credit)

People walk past the CCTV main building, home of China’s state broadcaster CCTV and its foreign affiliate CGTN, in Beijing February 4, 2021. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press – photo credit)

A Conservative MP is again calling on the federal government to ban authoritarian state broadcasters, including the China Global Television Network.

“CGTN, China’s authoritarian state-controlled broadcaster, still operates here, spreading disinformation, propaganda and violating international human rights laws,” Michael Chong, the Conservatives’ foreign policy critic, said during a parliamentary committee hearing Monday night.

As reported by the Toronto Star, the international human rights organization Safeguard Defenders filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-TV and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) back in 2019 against China Central Television’s China Global Television Network (CGTN) and Chinese-language international channel CCTV-4 .

Safeguard Defenders claims the two networks leaked the coerced confessions of 60 people detained by Chinese authorities – including the organization’s director Peter Dahlin.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

During the committee’s hearing on Monday, Chong asked Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino why the federal government had not issued an executive order under Section 7 of the Broadcasting Act, allowing the government to issue general policy directions to the CRTC.

Mendicino said that while he shares Chong’s “deep concern about the spread of any kind of disinformation,” the CRTC is an independent body.

Chong pointed out that just last year the government asked the CRTC to review the license of Russia’s state-controlled TV channel RT. The regulator later removed RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and RT France from its list of non-Canadian program services and channels allowed to broadcast in this country.

“I would hope that it doesn’t take a war before the government changes its position on state-controlled authoritarian broadcasters on the public airwaves owned by the Crown,” Chong said.

When asked if the government would consider Chong’s request, a spokesman for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez reiterated that the CRTC should be independent.

“It is not and should never be for the government to decide which channel is authorized and which is not,” said Laura Scaffidi.

“It is the responsibility of the independent regulator, the CRTC, to consult with Canadians and make these decisions in Canada’s best interests.”

“There is no excuse”

Chong told CBC News the government’s response was “stunning”.

He said he would like the CRTC to adopt a general policy of refusing broadcast applications from authoritarian state media companies.

“We call on the government to direct the CRTC towards a new universally applicable broadcasting policy stating that authoritarian, state-controlled broadcasters that spread propaganda and disinformation and violate international human rights law should not be on the list,” Chong said. “There is no excuse.”

Chong said that while he knows RT’s reports are still available online — and so would CGTN’s content if the CRTC banned broadcasting — the government is under no obligation to give these channels a public platform .

CRTC needs a “backbone,” says Rights Group

Dahlin of Safeguard Defenders said the organization fears their complaint with the CRTC will go nowhere.

“We believe the best way to deal with CCTV, CGTN and other similarly abusive TV broadcasters is to let CRTC do their job according to established procedures,” he said.

“But of course that requires a regulator with will, determination and backbone, and soon one might suspect that CRTC is missing from that department.

“There seems to be something holding CRTC back, but as outsiders we don’t know what that might be.”

A spokesman for the CRTC said the regulator is still working on Safeguard Defenders’ complaint.

“Since the file is still open, we cannot comment further at this time,” said Frédéric Lamaute.

CBC News has requested comment from CGTN but has received no response.

The UK regulator has suspended CGTN’s license

Britain’s broadcasting and telecoms regulator Ofcom suspended CGTN’s broadcasting license in 2021 after concluding that the news network was controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, in breach of UK broadcasting laws.

A few months later, it fined Star China Media Limited – which owned the UK license for CGTN – £200,000 (about CAD$349,000) for unfairly treating people on its programs, following two separate complaints.

Ofcom has concluded that the broadcast of the coerced confession of Simon Cheng, a former British Consulate official in Hong Kong, constitutes a serious breach of UK licensing law.

Chinese police claimed the Hong Kong citizen was arrested for “soliciting prostitutes” and made an alleged confession.

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Cheng said he was beaten by Chinese secret police, blindfolded, sleep-deprived, chained and repeatedly interrogated about Britain’s alleged role in the Hong Kong protests.

The daughter of Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong bookseller who holds Swedish citizenship, filed the other successful complaint.

In 2020, Gui was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing information abroad.” CGTN aired footage of Gui apparently expressing regret for his actions.

In 2020, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China’s efforts to distort news and influence media in Canada have “normalized”.

“Chinese-language media operating in Canada and members of the Sino-Canadian community are primary targets of PRC-directed foreigner-influenced activities,” said an informational note obtained through an information-access request.

As of January 1, 2022, four CCTV channels were on the CRTC’s Authorized Non-Canadian Programs List: CCTV 9 Documentary, CCTV English News, CCTV Entertainment Channel, CCTV-4 and CCTV-Français.


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