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Without Independent Film Producer, CBC Doing The Editing to Documentary Under Pressure From China

Posted by Author on November 20, 2007

Peter Rowe made 5 minutes’ worth of changes, but CBC wanted more before tonight’s broadcast

Vinay Menon,  television columnist, Toronto Star, Canada, Nov 20, 2007-

Peter Rowe spent three long years making a documentary about China’s repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. But in some ways, the last two weeks have been more exhausting.

On Nov. 6, five hours before Beyond the Red Wall: The Persecution of Falun Gong was scheduled to air on CBC Newsworld, the Canadian filmmaker was informed it had been yanked.

There were whispers Chinese diplomats had voiced complaints. And the notion Beijing was interfering with Canada’s public broadcaster – a charge the CBC categorically denies – generated headlines across the planet.

Beyond the Red Wall is scheduled to air tonight at 10. Mind you, assuming it does, not even Rowe will have seen the final cut.

“I was called on Saturday and told that they were making more changes and did I want to be involved, and I said, `No, I didn’t,'” he told me yesterday. “I’m on to my other projects and enough is enough.”

The network’s tinkering – the film was still in CBC’s editing suite yesterday afternoon – comes after a six-hour marathon between Rowe and executives last Monday, during which a number of changes were requested.

Rowe complied, delivering a recut version on Friday. The changes affected about five minutes of the 41-minute film and included:

Adding technical evidence to charges from Falun Gong over a 2001 incident in Tiananmen Square in which five people allegedly died from self-immolation. Chinese authorities say the five were Falun Gong members; the group says the incident was a government-staged hoax.

Removing an interview clip in which a lawyer talks about human rights abuses and the Olympic Games, drawing an analogy between 1936 Berlin and 2008 Beijing.

Adding a “dramatization” label to footage provided by Falun Gong that allegedly shows how some of its members have been tortured in prison.

Editing the most inflammatory section of the film in which China is accused of harvesting organs from Falun Gong members for transplant.

Removing a reference to a website, allegedly based in Vancouver, in which kidney transplants were guaranteed provided the patient was willing to travel to China. (The website has since disappeared. And this year, China passed a law that makes illegal the sale of organs to foreigners.)

Changing the numerical points of evidence from 18 to 33 in a report about the alleged organ harvesting that was authored by Canadian lawyer David Matas and David Kilgour, former secretary of state for Asia-Pacific. And including a title card that says Amnesty International has not corroborated the report.

The irony is that Beyond the Red Wall is airing as part of The Lens, a series that’s promoted as “innovative, compelling documentaries made exclusively by independent Canadian filmmakers.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is not a news segment on The National. It’s a provocative film with a point of view.

“This is the same unit that only in late September broadcast Fahrenheit 9/11, a far more contentious film than this one is,” says Rowe. “They didn’t ask Michael Moore to make any changes.”

So how does he explain the skittishness?

“I think there is a great deal of nervousness about dealing with issues involving China at the CBC.”

The suggestion is denied by CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay. He tells me changes were made after a “detailed review of the material” and not at the “behest of any outside parties.”

“We’ve worked to ensure the finished product is both journalistically rigorous and as credible as possible,” says Keay. “Several changes were required to ensure that source material and interviews were appropriately identified and attributed.

“There were two points where we disagreed as to whether specific assertions could be independently verified. Both cases related to organ harvesting and this resulted in deletions.”

Curiously, though, Rowe delivered the finished film in March. He heard no objections until the day it was supposed to air.

In fact, the film aired Oct. 31 on the broadcaster’s French-language service, Radio Canada.

It has also aired in New Zealand, Spain and Portugal, in each case without incident.

“I hope that I can make more films with the CBC, but I also hope that they would be less fractious and problem-filled edits than this one has been,” says Rowe.

The film – at least the first and second cuts I screened – includes interviews with academics, politicians, lawyers, Chinese officials and Falun Gong members. Unless the CBC has gutted it over the past 72 hours, Rowe’s film remains a searing indictment of China’s treatment of the Falun Gong.

The downside to this month’s publicity, Rowe says, is that it has overshadowed the film itself. But the upside, I suggest, is that more people may now watch.

– Original report from Toronto Star : CBC still tinkering with Falun Gong documentary

One Response to “Without Independent Film Producer, CBC Doing The Editing to Documentary Under Pressure From China”

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