Editor's Blog·Editor's Note

Why CBC News will close its China bureau

The best journalism results from being present and on the ground. It's why CBC News sends people into the field to cover news whenever and wherever possible.

The best journalism results from being on the ground. That's always CBC's 1st choice.

A delivery driver wearing a face mask rides a scooter with a Chinese flag along a street in Beijing on Nov. 1. CBC News is shutting down its Beijing news bureau after more than 40 years in China. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

We use this editor's blog to explain our journalism and what's happening at CBC News. You can find more blogs here. Read this blog in traditional Chinese or simplified Chinese閱讀此部落格的繁體中文版阅读此博客简体中文版

Journalism is not stenography. 

Reporting is not regurgitation. 

Rather, journalism is the act of truth finding and truth telling, guided by professional standards of independence, accuracy and impartiality. It involves gathering and testing facts, challenging assumptions, holding people to account and bearing witness as news events unfold — no matter who is made uncomfortable by our reporting. 

Being there

The best journalism results from being present and on the ground. It's why CBC News sends people into the field to cover news whenever and wherever possible. We are there in communities across Canada, on the small and big stories, on the "hard" and "soft" news, and always when it matters most, as we demonstrated recently when Fiona slammed into Atlantic Canada.

And we pride ourselves on international news coverage. As Canada's national public broadcaster, it is our unique responsibility and privilege to send correspondents out into the world to gather stories Canadians want and need to know about. This past year, for example, we have done an extraordinary amount of on-the-ground war-zone reporting in Ukraine. We have deployed teams to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Poland, India, Barbados, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Brazil and Finland, among other places.

A three-person CBC News team spent 10 days in Pakistan in September, tracking the devastating flooding that has displaced millions and led to an ongoing humanitarian disaster. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Deploying reporting teams into countries when and as the news warrants is an effective strategy for covering the world, though the process can sometimes include complex visa applications and country-specific permissions. 

The other strategy is to set up more permanent bureaus, as we've done in locations such as Washington, New York and London. 

India

We are pleased to now finalize the establishment of a new India bureau, after nearly two years of administrative paperwork, logistical challenges and one-off deployments. Our two-person team, reporter Salimah Shivji and video producer Glen Kugelstadt, will cover this dynamic country and the wider South Asian region from their base in Mumbai. 

We are glad the Indian government has signed off on our efforts to set up our newest bureau, and by extension, CBC's brand of independent, fact-based journalism, in their country.

Russia

Russia, sadly, has been another story altogether. In May, after a crackdown on independent media and new laws that restricted what could be said about the country's war on Ukraine, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson abruptly announced (during a news conference) that our bureau would be closed. According to the Russian Embassy in Canada, the move to strip our journalists of their visas and accreditation was in response to Canada's ban a few months earlier of Russian state television station RT. 

The CBC's Briar Stewart, centre, in the foreground, takes part in an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Oct. 19. Stewart was previously based in Moscow. She continues to report on Russia from outside the country. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

We had maintained a bureau in Moscow for more than 44 years and we were the only Canadian news organization with a permanent presence in that country when the expulsion happened. To our knowledge, it was the first time in the history of CBC/Radio-Canada that a government forced the closure of one of our bureaus.

Our team of reporter Briar Stewart and producer Corinne Seminoff continue to cover Russia from outside the country. It is far more difficult, but it is so important at a time when Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, are contributing to a reshaping of the world order.

China

Which brings us to China, another country where CBC/Radio-Canada has had an office for more than 40 years. 

Our French-language service, Radio-Canada Info, applied for a visa for its then-new China correspondent, Philippe Leblanc, in October 2020. Despite numerous exchanges with the Chinese consulate in Montreal and requests for meetings over the last two years, there is still no visa.

Meanwhile, CBC's last Beijing correspondent, Saša Petricic, returned to Canada as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and China locked down. We have only been back once for the 2022 Winter Olympics, in which journalists were restricted to a tightly controlled loop in and around the sport venues.

The CBC's last Beijing correspondent, Saša Petricic, returned to Canada in 2020, as China — and much of the world — locked down as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. (Sasa Petricic/CBC News)

This past April, my counterpart at Radio-Canada, Luce Julien, and I wrote to China's ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu. We requested once more the visa for Leblanc. As we told the ambassador, "We still believe in the importance of bearing witness to current issues that affect your country. In the absence of a journalist on-site, we are obviously unable to do this work and will have difficult decisions to make."

Receipt of our letter was acknowledged and nothing else.

While there was no dramatic expulsion or pointed public statements, the effect is the same. We can't get visas for our journalists to work there as permanent correspondents. 

There is no point keeping an empty bureau when we could easily set up elsewhere in a different country that welcomes journalists and respects journalistic scrutiny. 

Closing the Beijing bureau is the last thing we want to do, but our hand has been forced. Our commitment to covering China and East Asia is steadfast. We will begin the process of finding a new home base in the months ahead. Until then, we will deploy to the region when it makes sense. And Leblanc will work from a new post in Taiwan for the next two years.

We hope China will someday open up again to our journalists, just as we hope Russia will one day reconsider its decision to expel us. 

We believe everyone benefits from having more independent journalists — not fewer — on the ground and in key parts of the world.

At its best, journalism is a search for truth. When it comes to Russia and China, at this moment in time, at least, we will have to find new and different ways to continue to bring Canadians the best in international and world coverage of events and people in those regions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brodie Fenlon

Editor in chief

Brodie Fenlon is editor in chief and executive director of programs and standards for CBC News.

now