CBC Television abruptly cancelled a featured Falun Gong documentary just hours before it was to air on Tuesday night, prompting complaints that the network bowed to pressure from Chinese government officials.
The network, which had actually already broadcast the documentary once in English and once on its sister French service, Radio-Canada, switched the program at the 11th hour to rerun a piece about Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf.
A CBC spokesman said the network is simply doing its "due diligence" in holding Beyond The Red Wall: The Story of Falun Gong for prime time, in order to make it "more solid" before airing it at an unspecified date.
"If there is re-editing that's required, we're going to do that," CBC spokesman Jeff Keay said. He confirmed the network had been talking with Chinese diplomats who had expressed concerns about promotions the CBC had aired in the runup to this week's broadcast.
"I was actually contacted myself by a gentleman who is a cultural consultant with the Chinese embassy," Mr. Keay said. "He was very polite." CBC will run a new version of the documentary "sooner rather than later," the spokesman added, but couldn't say precisely when.
The Canadian director of Beyond The Red Wall says he has no intention of re-editing a piece that he spent three years working on. "We have to quote-unquote give balance," veteran filmmaker Peter Rowe said in an interview. "... I've never experienced anything like these kinds of demands."
The Falun Gong and Beijing are locked in a global campaign against one another. Falun Gong members said they interpret the delayed documentary as the latest example of China-sponsored interference against their movement, which Beijing considers a cult that represents a security threat.
The documentary draws attention to Falun Gong practitioners' complaints of persecution, including beatings, torture and labour camps in China.
It also explores an investigative report done by the former Canadian MP David Kilgour and Canadian civil-liberties lawyer David Matas, who concluded last year that a "large but unknown number of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience" were being executed and their hearts, kidneys, livers and corneas harvested for transplant.
Beyond The Red Wall was to air on The Lens, which CBC Newsworld bills as a forum for Canadian filmmakers whose "up close and personal documentaries feature dramatic stories with new perspectives; films that inform, provoke and entertain."
Parts of the documentary, however, may have been too provocative for the CBC. At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Mr. Rowe said, he spoke to CBC documentary chief Catherine Olsen, who said the piece would not air during its scheduled 10 p.m. time slot. He said the specific concerns that were raised by Ms. Olsen included explorations of self-immolations in Tiananmen Square that China and the Falun Gong accuse each other of sponsoring.
Another contentious portion was the way the documentary explores the controversial organ-harvesting report.
The Falun Gong-supporting Epoch Times newspaper featured an interview with Mr. Rowe last week in anticipation of the piece. At the time, he lauded the CBC for broadcasting the controversial documentary, especially given the network's ties to the Olympics in Beijing.
"The fact that they're willing to broadcast a film that has people in it advocating the boycotting of the Olympics, which they themselves are the broadcaster of in Canada, is remarkable," he told the newspaper on Oct. 29.
What's most galling for Mr. Rowe is that English CBC already aired the film this spring, albeit in a 4 a.m. time slot.
Radio-Canada aired a French-dubbed version of the film last month, Mr. Rowe said, adding that broadcasters in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and New Zealand are airing Beyond the Red Wall unedited. He pointed out that CBC had sponsored the project throughout. "Without their funding, the rest of the funding would not have come in," he said.