CBC-TV yanks Falun Gong documentary after Chinese embassy complains

Ottawa, Canada - CBC Television pulled a heavily promoted documentary on the persecution of Falun Gong members at the last minute, following objections from Chinese embassy and consulate officials.

Beyond the Red Wall: The Persecution of Falun Gong was supposed to have aired Tuesday night as part of CBC Newsworld's documentary series The Lens.

It was advertised for days in advance on the 24-hour news network.

Instead, the network slotted in a previously aired piece on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said Wednesday that the corporation had received calls from an official at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, as well as others from the consulate in Toronto, prior to the documentary airing.

None of them had seen the film.

"We want to … make sure it's an absolutely rigorous piece of work because it's become clear over the past 24 to 36 hours that there's a lot of interest in the thing," said Keay. "We want to make sure it's a solid piece of work that will stand up to intense scrutiny."

He added the network intends to air it as soon as it has completed a review.

Documentary producer Peter Rowe said he was surprised to hear from the CBC only a few hours before his item was supposed to run.

The documentary was licensed by the CBC in 2004, and received funding from both Telefilm Canada and the Canadian Television Fund, he said.

It had been reviewed by the public broadcaster's lawyers and senior editors late last year, and a person was assigned to promote it, Rowe said.

The documentary actually aired on the CBC late one night in 2006 without promotion. It also aired on the CBC's French-language network, Radio-Canada. A Chinese embassy official appears in the film.

"If the American government had tried to put this pressure on the CBC not to run this kind of documentary, you can imagine what kind of reaction they would have had internally," said Rowe.

"With China, it's felt like we have to treat them in a very special way."

The Chinese government made it illegal to follow Falun Gong in 1999, saying the spiritual movement was a threat to political stability in the country. Human rights organizations have reported executions and torture of Falun Gong members by Beijing.

One of the contentious parts of the documentary deals with Chinese news reports about four Falun Gong followers setting themselves on fire in Beijing. Rowe's production argues the story was a hoax, set up by the Chinese government to make the religious sect seem cult-like and unstable.