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A pedestrian walks past an office block that houses the offices of China's CGTN Europe (China Global Television Network), in London on Feb. 4, 2021.

TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images

The federal Conservatives are proposing changes to the Broadcasting Act that could bar foreign state-controlled TV networks from Canadian channels in the wake of complaints that two Chinese government media networks aired forced confessions in Canada.

The suggested amendments are being tabled as the minority Liberal government tries to win support from opposition parties for its own revisions to the Broadcasting Act.

Safeguard Defenders, an NGO co-founded by a Swedish human-rights activist once incarcerated in China, has already complained to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission about the activities of China Global Television Network (CGTN) and China Central Television (CCTV). CGTN is under the control of the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party and CCTV is a state-controlled Chinese broadcaster.

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Safeguard Defenders director Peter Dahlin provided the CRTC with records showing these state-owned Chinese TV networks, available through cable subscription in Canada, aired the forced confessions of 70 people who had been locked up by Chinese police, including his own. The complaint covered the period from 2013 to 2019.

Mr. Dahlin was arrested by the Chinese Ministry of State Security in 2016. He says that’s the same unit that seized former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig in Beijing.

He said he was told he would not be released unless he made a forced televised video confession. “They walked in with a paper, a script. They directed the whole thing: ‘Talk slow, look sadder’ – never telling me this was for public use.”

Mr. Dahlin said the CRTC has taken no measures since Safeguard filed its complaint 16 months ago. He noted that when the broadcasting regulator first allowed China’s CCTV to be aired in Canada in 2006, the commission had said it expected the network’s content “will be free of abusive comment.”

Other Western countries have already taken measures to address the airing of forced confessions by Chinese state broadcasters.

Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service announced in March it would suspend its broadcasts of news bulletins from CGTN and CCTV after receiving a human-rights complaint. In February, Britain’s media regulator revoked CGTN’s licence after it concluded that the Chinese Communist Party had ultimate editorial responsibility for the channel.

The House of Commons standing committee on Canadian heritage is meeting Friday to consider the Liberal amendments – contained in Bill C-10 – and the Conservatives plan to introduce their proposals either Friday or at the subsequent meeting on Monday.

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Alain Rayes, the Conservative heritage critic, and Garnett Genuis, the party’s human-rights critic, are proposing revisions to the Broadcasting Act that would prevent broadcasting rights being issued to any news organization “that is subject to direction or controlled by a non-democratic foreign state,” or a “foreign state that is committing genocide or crimes against humanity,” or that “transmits, produces or participates in the production of forced confessions” for broadcast.

“The promotion and glorification of human-rights abuses by state-controlled foreign media has no place in Canada. Allowing foreign states who are violating human rights to promote those abuses or dispel legitimate criticism on Canadian channels runs counter to our Canadian values and to the principle of free and open conversation,” the two MPs said.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s office did not say whether he supported the Conservative proposal.

“Standing committees are independent and have an important role to play in improving bills through the legislative process,” Camille Gagné-Raynauld, press secretary to Mr. Guilbeault, said. “The department and the Minister of Canadian Heritage work in collaboration with the committee when requested in order to provide clarifications and allow the proper completion of its work,” she said.

“We look forward to seeing the committee’s work on Bill C-10 once they report back to the House.”

Safeguard Defender’s Mr. Dahlin said he feels the CRTC is dragging its feet on his complaint.

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“They have claimed to us that the current issue – the complaint – is under review but they have stated this for a year now,” Mr. Dahlin said.

The CRTC for its part declined to comment on proposed legislative changes.

The Chinese embassy in Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With a report from Reuters

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