OTTAWA, Nov. 8 — Hours before a heavily promoted documentary about the Falun Gong spiritual sect in China was scheduled to go on the air, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation withdrew the show from its lineup, saying its decision was influenced in part by phone calls from Chinese diplomats in Canada.
The action by the government-owned network, which will be the main Canadian broadcaster of the Beijing Olympics next summer, provoked criticism from journalists as well as Falun Gong members. It puzzled some viewers, given that the CBC had been advertising the show heavily and broadcast it in French with no apparent consequences. The English version had also been shown, if in the middle of the night.
“The thing that comes to mind is the Olympics,” said Paul Knox, chairman of the journalism school at Ryerson University in Toronto. “Was the CBC concerned this might jeopardize it pulling off the coverage of the Olympics? Possibly.”
Jeff Keay, a spokesman for CBC Television, rejected any connection between the Olympics, which generate substantial ad revenue, and the decision to withdraw “Beyond the Red Wall: The Persecution of Falun Gong.” He did link the decision to a telephone call he received from a “cultural consultant” at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa. It appeared from that conversation that Chinese officials had not seen earlier broadcasts.
John Cruickshank, who is in charge of CBC news operations, said: “I’m happy we didn’t air it. I’m happy we stepped into the process. In the end, we got the journalism right.”
The program was produced by Peter Rowe of Toronto, who said he had made a higher-than-usual number of changes to satisfy the CBC, which also had the film screened by lawyers.