Ombudsman 2 December 2008
CBC Radio Canada
We wish to present concerns about a show called "Enquete", an episode titled "Malaise in Chinatown", aired by Radio Canada on October 30th 2008, 8 p.m. In order to present these concerns, we begin with some general remarks.
There are questions a public broadcaster should not ask. For a public broadcaster, there are not just bad answers. Sometimes, there are bad questions, no matter what the answers.
Public broadcasters should not ask questions which assume the frame of reference of hate propagandists. They should not ask questions which assume that slurs and slanders are true.
It is easy to see that it is improper to ask of anyone, "when will you stop beating your wife?" Similar questions about groups, asking when members of a particular group identified by colour or religion or nationality, will stop beating their wives are equally improper.
The questions hate promoters pose are not just questions with offensive answers. The very questions give offense.
Are blacks dirty? Do Jews control the world? Are Serbians bloodthirsty? Are Tutsis cockroaches?
The very attempt to answer these questions demeans a public broadcaster. The degradation is particularly acute where the broadcaster starts from the assumption that the slurs may well be true and goes about attempting to determine if there is enough evidence to dispel the assumptions. It makes a mockery of public broadcasting to go about attempting to determine such things as whether blacks are clean, whether Jews do not control the world, whether Tutsis are not akin to cockroaches, whether Serbians do not enjoy killing.
The evil of hate propaganda is not only in the conclusions reached. It is in the questions being asked. Hate propagandists approach the world with a frame of reference that is skewed to conform to their own world view. Hate propagandists live in a self contained world of delusive paranoia where the vilified group is the enemy and they are the defenders of virtue. When a public broadcaster conducts an investigation, the investigation has a different status from an investigation conducted by an individual. An investigation by a public broadcaster is a pronouncement of society acting as a whole that the subject matter of the investigation is worthy of investigation.
Public broadcaster investigations do not just report events. They are events in themselves. When a public broadcaster conducts an investigation and reports on the result, what has happened is not just communication of information which is the result of the investigation. It is the investigation itself. The questions asked are given a status they would not otherwise have. The assumptions adopted in the questions posed become public assumptions. Because of the investigation, and not just because of the result of the investigation, the situation has changed.
A public broadcaster must not lose sight of these consequences of its investigations. When a public broadcaster asks a question that a hate promoter would ask, it makes the question of the hate promoter legitimate. That is something no public broadcaster should do.
Hate propagandists engage in victim inversion. Though the targets of incitement are the victims, the propagandists portray themselves as the victims and the targets as the perpetrators.
A public broadcast which investigates the charges of hate propagandists adopts the frame of reference of the propagandists. The broadcaster asks the question the propagandist asks, adopts the approach to the world the propagandist has. Where a public broadcaster investigates hate propaganda slurs, it accepts the questions of the propagandist as valid ones, and gives credence to them, something it should not do.
Public broadcasters would have little difficulty agreeing with these principles. One of the CBC - Radio Canada policies set out in its Journalistic Standards and Practices is the principle that
"The audience must not be incited by CBC program personnel to... support a particular point of view. Such actions would in effect make the Corporation a party to controversy and would be contrary to the premise that the Corporation takes no editorial position in its programming."11
Stating the principle is easy. Applying it in practice is often not so easy. Incitement to hatred does not always take the same form. It is contextual. While it is easy to pick out specific formulations based on past historical examples, identifying new formulations requires specific knowledge.
The ideologies of hatred and genocide which now stalk the world are localized in language, in history, and in appeal. Understanding hate speech requires an understanding of the context in which the speech is uttered. Hate speech often involves veiled or coded references. Understanding is a work of decoding.
When broadcasters come across new and different forms of incitement to hatred, they sometimes try to hide their ignorance through false symmetry. Today, a responsible broadcaster would not treat the existence of the Holocaust as a matter of dispute between Jews and neo-Nazis and, in pursuit of balance, treat both evidence of the Holocaust and Holocaust denial in the same way, as two equally tenable points of view. But a lot of other forms of incitement to hatred less well known than Holocaust denial are treated in exactly this fashion, as if the incitement and its rejection were just two equally respectable views in a debate.
Practitioners of Falun Gong are victims of incitement to hatred in China. That incitement has led to their victimization in astonishing numbers well documented by UN and NGO human rights reports. One form of victimization on which David Kilgour and I have reported is the killing of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs to be used in transplants. Our report is available at <www.organharvestinvestigation.net>.
The show "Enquete", episode titled "Malaise in Chinatown", was inaccurate, manipulative, propagandistic and spiteful in a myriad of ways. We wish to comment on one aspect of this episode only, the Radio Canada presentation of our report on organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners. In making this comment, we address as well the context in which it is presented.
Our report on organ harvesting presents a wide variety of verifiable evidence documenting our conclusions. The Chinese government has responded by knee jerk denials without answering any of the evidence even though this evidence mostly emanates from official Chinese government sources. This evasiveness and the refusal to confront the evidence set out in our report has been noted by the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, the United Nations Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, and the United Nations Committee on Torture2.
Instead, the Government of China has responded in a fantastic, paranoic fashion. They pretend that our conclusions come not from us but from the Falun Gong, which they have demonized. They claim that our conclusions are part of the demonic efforts of the Falun Gong directed against them.
The Radio Canada "investigation" takes this Government of China fantasy seriously and proceeds to attempt to demonstrate, by ignoring and distorting the evidence, that this fantasy is true. The Radio Canada journalist begins the organ harvesting part of her "investigation" by asking these questions:
"We've heard a lot of talk about the organ harvesting massacre Falun Gong adepts would have been victim of in China. But is this really the case? Is it a form of propaganda from the movement's leaders?"
These questions incorporate inaccurate assumptions. The questions refer to the Falun Gong as a movement. Elsewhere and quite often the Radio Canada episode refers to the Falun Gong as an organization. Yet, Falun Gong is neither a movement nor an organization; it is a set of exercises with a spiritual foundation.
The questions refer to the movement's leaders. Yet, those who practise Falun Gong have no leadership. Li Hong Zhi has written books and given public lectures widely available in print and on the internet which have inspired individual Falun Gong practitioners. But that is all he has done.
Because Falun Gong is a combination of exercise and spirituality, comparing it to another form of exercise or another form of spirituality is not quite accurate. Yet, it is certainly more accurate than labelling it as a movement or organization.
It would be ridiculous to characterize swimming or running or any other form of exercise as a movement or organization. One can go to swimming pools and see many people swimming at the same time. However, only the ignorant would assume that all those swimmers are organized, that their swimming is some joined, planned activity, directed by a leader. The Radio Canada report manifests this form of ignorance.
Part of the problem is simply linguistic. Calling swimming an organization with a leadership is not just delinked from reality. It is linguistic nonsense. Knowledge of the English or French language is all you need in order to appreciate that swimming is an exercise and no more. The words "Falun Gong", though, are not English or French. Simple grounding in the English or French language is not enough to prevent the ignorant from being led astray.
The use of the word "adepts" is not quite right either. The proper word is "practitioners". Because Falun Gong is a set of exercises, the people who are Falun Gong are people who practice the exercises. "Adepts" suggests that Falun Gong is a form of belief only. It is that, but it is more. It is impossible to be Falun Gong without practising the exercises.
Literally, the word "Gong" means "practice" or "exercise" and Falun means "the wheel of law". The phrase "wheel of the law" is a short hand description of Falun Gong beliefs. So Falun Gong is a form or type of practice or exercise. The phrase "Falun Gong practitioners" is clumsy because literally it means wheel of the law practice practitioners. But, at least it is accurate.
There are some Falun Gong practitioners who have formed and joined support organizations, Falun Dafa associations. Falun Dafa associations are local or national. There is no one international Falun Dafa Association.
These associations encompass only a portion of Falun Gong practitioners. They may facilitate some Falun Gong activities. But they no more represent or lead or organize all Falun Gong practitioners than, say, swimming clubs represent or lead or organize all swimmers.
To take an example from religion rather than exercise, B'nai Brith is a membership organization within the Jewish community. When it speaks on Jewish community issues, it speaks on behalf of its membership, not the whole Jewish community. When B'nai Brith makes a statement, it is inaccurate to say that this is the position of absolutely everyone who is Jewish.
So, there is a difference between Falun Gong practitioners, the people whom Radio Canada describes as adepts, and members of a local Falun Dafa association. It is the difference between all and some.
The Chinese government attribution of leadership and organization to Falun Gong has nothing to do with these Falun Dafa associations. There is no Falun Dafa association in China and there never was, even when the practice was at its height. There are, as well, many other countries with Falun Gong practitioners but no Falun Dafa association.
Before the banning of the Falun Gong in China, there was a Falun Dafa Research Society which was banned along with the Falun Gong. The Chinese government news agency report of the banning of July 20, 1999 stated:
"China today banned the Research Society of Falun Dafa and the Falun Gong organization under its control after deeming them to be illegal."
So the Government of China banned a non-existent, imaginary organization and attributed to this imaginary organization control over an organization which did exist.
The question Radio Canada asks - whether the organ harvesting massacre that Falun Gong adepts would have been victim of in China is a form of propaganda from the movements' leaders - adopts the frame of reference of the Government of China, attributing our conclusions on organ harvesting to the Falun Gong. The Radio Canada attribution of our report to a non-existent leadership of a non-existent organization, by way of assumption only, is bound to mislead.
The Radio Canada report is not just ignorant, making unwarranted, unfounded assumptions. The Communist Party of China characterization of the Falun Gong as an organization with a leadership has been the starting point for Government of China persecution of the Falun Gong.
Calling a group of individuals each acting on their own initiative an organization or a movement acting under a leadership may be harmless. It does not in itself present cause for complaint. However, it became for Radio Canada the basis for other, far more serious, errors. It is amazing, once Radio Canada starts off in the wrong direction, how far astray it wanders.
The Radio Canada error about organization and leadership reflected and repeated exactly the same error of the Communist Party of China. That sort of error, in a Canadian, democratic context, may mean little. But that error, in a Chinese context, was fatal, not to those making the error, but those who were and are erroneously described.
The Communist Party of China was both bewildered and alarmed by the growth of the practice of Falun Gong in the 1990s. The practice of Falun Gong spread rapidly throughout China immediately after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of Communist Party control in Central Asia and Eastern and Central Europe. The Communist Party of China feared a similar collapse, a similar loss of control.
When the Party saw their own Chinese nationals, in the tens of millions, engaging publicly in a form of exercise which had an underlying belief system completely divorced from Communism but closely connected to ancient Chinese traditions, Communists fantasized the Falun Gong as the engine of their destruction. Like persecutors everywhere, they turned a group of innocents into an enemy and launched a persecution to combat this imaginary enemy.
Though the Falun Gong is not an organization with a leadership, the Communist Party of China surely is. When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The Communist Party of China saw the Falun Gong as a mirror of itself, organizationally similar, but ideologically different.
The rapid growth of the practice of Falun Gong and seemingly coherent activity of a number of individual Falun Gong practitioners is attributable to modern technology - cell phones and the internet. Through cell phones and the internet it is possible for large numbers of people to do the same thing at the same time, be at the same place at the same time, without organization or leadership.
For swimmers, one can say, build a swimming pool and they will come, without organization or leadership. For Falun Gong practitioners, one can say something similar - make publicly available the exercises and beliefs, spread the technology of cell phones and the internet and they will come, also without organization or leadership.
But the Communist Party of China does not operate this way, does not think this way. It has projected on to others, a disparate group of Falun Gong practitioners, its own manner of operation.
For the Communist Party, demonization followed - the labelling of Falun Gong as a evil cult, the claim that Falun Gong leadership leads practitioners to murder and suicide. But behind it all is a mischaracterization, the view that Falun Gong is an organization with a leadership.
If, indeed, Falun Gong were an organization with a leadership, the persecution it suffered might have been less intense. The Government of China has suppressed all independent religious and spiritual thought. But the Falun Gong suffering far outpaces others in terms of numbers and brutality. One can see the difference just in terms of the invective the Government of China utters against the Falun Gong, far more vituperative than the propaganda directed against other beliefs.
Because other beliefs are organized, the Government of China has responded in part by attempting to take over the organizations. There is a Chinese government appointed Buddhist Panchen Lama, Chinese government selected Roman Catholic bishops, Chinese government chosen Moslem imams. These designations mitigate the attacks the Government of China launches against these beliefs, since it does not want to undermine its own appointees.
However, for Falun Gong, since there is no organization and no leadership, there is no one China can appoint to head the Falun Gong. Not being inhibited from undermining its own appointees, the Government of China attacks on the Falun Gong know no bounds.
The absence of organization and leadership of Falun Gong has not stopped the Government of China from believing there is one. Chinese officials just think it is hidden underground. The very lack of visibility of leadership and organization has led the Government of China to greater suspicion, greater fears.
This belief in a hidden organization has generated exaggerated spying efforts on Falun Gong practitioners. Defectors from Chinese embassies and consulates around the world tell us that the primary effort, expense and person power of the Government of China around the world is dedicated not to trade, not to international relations with foreign governments, but to spying on the Falun Gong.
This effort, if it were not so tragic in result, would be comical. Imagine a major power spending the bulk of its efforts abroad spying on swimmers - listening in on their phone calls, breaking into their computers, infiltrating swimming pools, following swimmers around, taking photos of them - all in an effort to find out who is their leader, what is their organization, what are their plans. Substitute swimmers for those who practice the Falun Gong exercises and you have the Government of China.
Those who practice Falun Gong, understandably, object to their persecution and their persecutors. However, those objections arose only and after and because of the persecution. Falun Gong practitioners, as practitioners, have no political agenda. Many of them, indeed most of them in non-immigration countries, are not Chinese nationals nor ethnic Chinese and know and care as little about Chinese politics, aside from the persecution of the Falun Gong, as any other person who is not a Chinese national.
The Radio Canada report manages to avoid the most vile slurs uttered by the Communist Party of China about the Falun Gong. But it accepts the foundational assumptions for those slurs. The assumptions of the Communist Party about the Falun Gong are also those of Radio Canada. These assumptions are no more questioned by Radio Canada than they are by the Communist Party of China itself.
Calling an uncoordinated mass of individuals engaged in parallel activities an organization with a leadership may, on its own, just be an innocent mistake. But once one starts attributing propaganda activity to this imagined organization, the mistake ceases to be innocent. The error becomes paranoic, a conspiracy fantasy. Combined with the propaganda charge, the Radio Canada characterization of Falun Gong is problematic, particularly when it is an assumption only. Once Radio Canada does this, it has violated its own broadcast standard opposing manipulation. It is a form of incitement against the Falun Gong.
It would be legitimate to question whether Falun Gong is an organization, whether it has a leadership. It would also be legitimate to question whether the conclusions of our report on organ harvesting are right or wrong. We would welcome such an investigation. However, to attribute our report to a non-existent leadership of a non-existent organization and then conduct an investigation into whether this falsely attributed report is propaganda produced by this imaginary organization is to begin an investigation on the wrong foot.
The problem here, aside from the fantastical nature of this investigation, is the false symmetry mentioned earlier. The Government of China rejects all criticism of its human rights violations as anti-Chinese propaganda. To treat these Chinese government assertions seriously is to give them a credence they do not deserve. One has to be blind to reality to put hard evidence of human rights violations on the same footing as Communist Party blather. Yet, Radio Canada, has launched an investigation on precisely this basis.
Radio Canada interviews co-author David Kilgour. He is filmed as saying
"Read our report, you will be terrified and you will realize that this is indeed happening. We've provided 31 points. Proof. For people who are independent, intelligent and who understand the world as it is, I think there's no doubt."
And that is all. There is no indication at any point what that evidence is, and certainly no attempt to assess or evaluate or investigate that evidence.
Given the nature of the investigation, that people are being killed for their organs, it is impossible to produce surviving victims. No one could possibly tell us or Radio Canada, "I was killed for my organs and my body cremated." Nor is it realistic to expect mass murderers to confess publicly to their crimes, especially when the regime under which the crimes were committed remains in power. Instead, we established our conclusions through other forms of evidence.
David Ownby, who was interviewed on the program, pointed this out. But the quote from David Ownby which was used in the TV program referred to this fact so indirectly, it would be impossible for an uninformed viewer to know what Ownby was saying. On the contrary, the ignorant might have thought he was commenting on the veracity of our report rather than just noting the nature of the evidence.
The exact quote from Ownby is this:
"I've carefully read the report and it's hard to find direct and conclusive testimonies. So it's they've necessarily based themselves on third party testimony. They came to the conclusions that they could. I'd say that organ harvesting is a problem in China, although, I have not seen direct evidence that Falun Gong is a particular target."
When David Ownby is saying that "it's hard to find direct and conclusive testimonies", he is not saying that it is hard to find direct and conclusive eye witness evidence in our report, but rather, given the nature of the issue, it is hard to find anyone under any circumstances who could or would produce direct and conclusive eye witness evidence. This distinction is lost by the manner of reporting. The impression left is that Ownby is saying that the conclusions of our report are not proven, rather than that they are proven one way, the only feasible way, and not proven another way which, given the nature of the issue, is an impossible and unavailable form of proof.
The Radio Canada journalist says:
"In Ottawa, Falun Gong even manages to get support from David Kilgour. An ex-Liberal deputy and state secretary. In the summer of 2006, he publishes an investigation report that he produced at the request of some of the movements' friends."
So the suggestion here is that the conclusion of organ harvesting came from Radio Canada's mythical Falun Gong movement which David Kilgour later supported. The reality that the conclusion of organ harvesting came from us and not from elsewhere is ignored.
When it comes to the substance of its wrong footed investigation, what Radio Canada investigates is not the accuracy of our report, but the accuracy of wording about support for our report in flyers we have not authored. These flyers are attributed by Radio Canada to its imaginary Falun Gong organization.
So the Radio Canada report states:
"By looking at Falun Gong flyers, one could believe that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International approves of Kilgours' report. But that is not what we found out."
The flyers themselves are not quoted, just described.
Radio Canada then proceeds to interview people who do not contradict our report in any way. An Amnesty International spokesperson states: "we can't confirm the actual numbers or the extent of the allegations". This is a statement of numbers and extent, not existence of the practice of organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners. It is a statement of absence of confirmation, not a statement of non-existence. It gives no indication of the sort of evidence Amnesty International was seeking as confirmation and, in consequence, no indication whether the evidence Amnesty International sought was realistically available.
The interview with Harry Wu is even more misleading. It ends with the statement "It's just a lie" suggesting that he was saying our report or at least the flyer which described our report was a lie. Yet, the prior questions show that he was being asked about something else and not our report nor the flyer.
The preceding question and answer are these:
"Radio Canada journalist: Mr. Wu searched for proof that the Chinese government targeted today Falun Gong followers in particular. Five times he sent teams on site and this what they discovered:
Harry Wu : Nothing... nothing. I asked them to go back on location, to meet the direction of the hospital, they talked to the people at the front desk, the cadres, the doctors... they never heard about it."
What site, what hospital are the question and answer referring to? Someone familiar with the issue would know that the reference is to Sujiatun hospital in Shenyang province.
When did Harry Wu send investigators to Sujiatun hospital? There are two issues of timing here. One is: How long after the first reports of abuse came out did Harry Wu send in his investigators? Investigators sent in shortly after the reports of violation surface are more likely to find evidence than those sent out long after there has been the opportunity to organize a systematic cover up. The reality, not mentioned, is that these investigators were sent out, even the first set, several weeks after the reports of violations surfaced.
The second is: Did the investigators go out before or after our report became public? Investigators who visited the site before our report came out could not possibly be commenting on our report. The reality, not mentioned in the broadcast, is that the investigators, on all their visits, went to Sujiatun before our report was published.
What did our report say about Sujiatun hospital? One can see from our report that all we did is point out the sorts of things we are pointing out here. We said nothing specific about organ harvesting at Sujiatun hospital.
Who is Harry Wu reacting to? Again, if one knew the background, the answer is the ex-wife of an ex-surgeon at Sujiatun hospital named Annie and a formerly China based Japanese employed TV journalist named Peter, neither of whom was or is a Falun Gong practitioner.
So Harry Wu is saying that some unidentified person, not us nor a Falun Gong practitioner, said something about Sujiatun hospital, and there is no indication what that something is. He said this before our report came out but weeks after the reports of abuse first surfaced, again though without the timing being indicated. It is this unidentified something said by an unidentified someone at an unidentified time which Harry Wu says is a lie. But Radio Canada, with its tendentious framing of the question and its omissions, gives the impression that Harry Wu is levelling his accusation of lying against us and Radio Canada's concocted Falun Gong organization.
This was, it must be remembered, Radio Canada's attempt to determine whether its falsely attributed report was propaganda put out by its imaginary organization. The conclusion, it would seem, to be drawn from all this, the way it is framed by the broadcaster, is that the charge of propaganda is proved.
This is a classic form of victim inversion. The Communist Party of China could not have put it any better than Radio Canada did. Communists torture, maim and kill. Surviving victims have the temerity to complain, ask for the whereabouts of their family members. The Communist Party responds that all the hard evidence of victimization is just anti-Chinese propaganda. Radio Canada, it seems, agrees.
This is more than just inaccurate reporting. It is swallowing Communist Party propaganda and incitement to hatred against Falun Gong practitioners whole. It deserves the censure of the ombudsman.
David Matas and David Kilgour