Conservative MP urges Ottawa to ban Chinese state broadcaster from airwaves

A Conservative MP is renewing calls for the federal government to ban authoritarian state broadcasters, including the China Global Television Network.

CGTN is spreading 'disinformation, propaganda' in Canada, says Michael Chong

In this Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021 file photo, people wearing face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, walk past the CCTV Headquarters building, the home of Chinese state-run television network CCTV and its overseas arm CGTN, in Beijing. The U.K. has stripped China's state-owned TV channel of its broadcasting license in the country, after an investigation found the license holder lacked editorial control and had links to China's ruling Communist Party.
People walk past the CCTV headquarters building, the home of Chinese state-run television network CCTV and its overseas arm CGTN, in Beijing on Feb. 4, 2021. (Mark Schiefelbein/The Associated Press)

A Conservative MP is renewing calls for the federal government to ban authoritarian state broadcasters, including the China Global Television Network.

"CGTN, China's authoritarian state-controlled broadcaster, is still operating here, spreading disinformation, propaganda and violating international human rights laws," said Michael Chong, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, during a parliamentary committee hearing Monday night.

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

Safeguard Defenders alleges the two networks have aired the forced confessions of 60 people who were detained by Chinese authorities — including the organization's director, Peter Dahlin.

Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Michael Chong rises  during Question Period, in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022.
Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong rises during question period in Ottawa on Nov. 14, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

During Monday's committee hearing, Chong asked Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino why the federal government hasn't issued an order under section seven of the Broadcasting Act, which permits the government to issue general policy directions to the CRTC.

Mendicino said that while he shares Chong's "profound concerns about the distribution of any kind of disinformation," the CRTC is an independent body.

Chong pointed out that the government asked the CRTC to review the licence of the state-controlled Russian television network RT just last year.The regulator later removed RT (formerly known as Russia Today) and RT France from its list of non-Canadian programming services and stations that are allowed to broadcast in this country.

"I would hope it doesn't take a war for the government to change its position on state-controlled authoritarian broadcasters on public, Crown-owned airwaves," Chong said. 

When asked if the government would consider Chong's request, a spokesperson for Heritage Minster Pablo Rodriguez again stated that the CRTC is meant to be independent.

"It is not, and should never be, up to the government to decide which channel is authorized and which is not," said Laura Scaffidi.

"It is up to the independent regulator, the CRTC, to consult with Canadians and make those decisions in Canada's best interest."

'There's no excuse'

Chong told CBC News the government's response has been "baffling."

He said he wants to see the CRTC adopt a general policy of denying broadcast applications from authoritarian state media entities.

"We're calling on the government to direct the CRTC to a new broadcasting policy of general application that authoritarian state controlled broadcasters, which spread propaganda and disinformation and which violate international human rights law, should not be on the list," said Chong. "There's no excuse."

Chong said that while he knows RT's reports are still available online — and CGTN's content would be as well if the CRTC banned it from broadcasting — the government is under no obligation to give these outlets a public platform.

CRTC needs a 'backbone,' says rights group

Dahlin of Safeguard Defenders said the organization fears its complaint to the CRTC is going nowhere.

"It is our view that the best way to deal with CCTV, CGTN and other similar abusive TV broadcasters is to let CRTC do their job, according to established procedures," he said.

"But that, of course, requires a regulator with both will, determination and a backbone, and soon one might suspect that CRTC are lacking in that department.

"There is seemingly something holding CRTC back, but as outsiders, we do not know what that may be."

A spokesperson for the CRTC said the regulator is still working on Safeguard Defenders' complaint.

"Given the file is still open, we cannot comment further at this time," said Frédéric Lamaute.

CBC News has requested comment from CGTN but has not received a response.

U.K. regulator suspended CGTN's licence

Britain's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator Ofcom suspended CGTN's broadcast licence in 2021 after it concluded the news network was controlled by the Chinese Communist party, a violation of U.K. broadcasting laws.

A few months later, it fined Star China Media Limited — which owned the U.K. licence for CGTN — £200,000 (about $349,000 Cdn) for unfair treatment of individuals on its programmes following two separate complaints.

Ofcom concluded that airing the forced confession of Simon Cheng, a former official at the British consulate in Hong Kong, was a serious breach of the U.K.'s licensing code.

Chinese police claimed the Hong Kong citizen had been detained for "soliciting prostitutes" and aired an alleged confession.

Two men in suits, with binders of papers in front of them, sit at a table.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, left, and director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) David Vigneault, right, wait to appear before the Special Committee on Canada-People's Republic of China Relationship (CACN) on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Cheng said he was beaten, blindfolded, deprived of sleep, chained spread-eagle and repeatedly interrogated by the Chinese secret police about the U.K.'s supposed role in Hong Kong's 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 jail for "illegally providing intelligence overseas." CGTN aired footage of Gui appearing to express regret for his actions.

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

"Chinese-language media outlets operating in Canada and members of the Chinese-Canadian community are primary targets of PRC-directed foreign influenced activities," says a briefing note obtained through an access to information request. 

As of Jan. 1, 2022, four CCTV channels were on the CRTC's authorized non-Canadian programming list: CCTV 9 Documentary, CCTV English News, CCTV Entertainment Channel, CCTV-4 and CCTV-Français.


Catharine Tunney is a reporter with CBC's Parliament Hill bureau, where she covers national security and the RCMP. She worked previously for CBC in Nova Scotia. You can reach her at catharine.tunney@cbc.ca

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