There are many ways in which Canadas national broadcaster failed its own stated standards of journalism in its recent reporting about The Epoch Times.
The CBC recently aired multiple segments on its different platforms, including radio, television, and online, on a special edition about the pandemic produced and distributed by The Epoch Times.
The CBCs promotion of the characterization of the special edition as being racist and xenophobic, its one-sided coverage, and its claims that the special edition advances a conspiracy theory, were heavily criticized by Epoch Times Canada publisher Cindy Gu. She published a statement pointing out that the Chinese communist regime is not the same as Chinese people, and that the special edition puts the focus on the regimes conduct in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, not on the people of China.
Gu also said the CBCs conspiracy theory claim is based on unsubstantiated comments from one recipient and an unnamed mail carrier, falsely claiming that the special edition says the virus was “manufactured” and that its “part of a bio-warfare agenda by the Chinese people,” while it makes no such allegations.
The CBCs coverage drew rebuke from a number of journalists, and was the subject of a commentary published on the front page of the National Post on Sat., May 2.
The Twitter bios of two of the three CBC reporters covering Epoch Timess special edition say their focus is disinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic. One holds the title of senior reporter.
In targeting Epoch Times reporting and in their labelling, the reporters themselves unknowingly became part of a disinformation campaign—one perpetrated by Beijing to stifle any criticism and exposure of its conduct by characterizing it as racism.
“Reporters who understand the intersection of geopolitics & information warfare would have reported on this quite differently,” Marcus Kolga, an expert on foreign disinformation, said on Twitter in reaction to one of the CBCs articles. “PRC propaganda, that criticism of the Chinese government is racism is uncritically repeated, + PRC mass disinfo isnt mentioned.”
Kolga, a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, wrote in a previous op-ed for Macleans that “authoritarian regimes frequently label foreign criticism of their policies as racist as a way to delegitimize them and polarize debate.”
In the case of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this strategy has its roots in propaganda and education initiatives launched as early as the 1990s in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre by then-leader Jiang Zemin. The goal was to drive home the point that the CCP and China are one and the same.
The Epoch Times, founded by Chinese immigrants who fled communist oppression in their homeland, has been covering disinformation put out by the Beijing regime for two decades. Since the start of the pandemic, using sources in China, The Epoch Times has been publishing exclusive reports on Chinas disinformation and hiding of the facts.
For example, in early February, Epoch Times reporters called funeral homes in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in China, and got testimonies from the staff on the number of bodies they are cremating, showing the death toll to be magnitudes higher than what the regime had been admitting. And in the days that the CBC was targeting The Epoch Times, the outlet published a report based on leaked documents it obtained showing Beijing knew the virus was contagious but kept silent for days.
Meanwhile, even before setting its sights on The Epoch Times, CBC has run stories that were shaped by the Chinese regimes disinformation about the number of infections in China.
For example, on March 31, the broadcaster published an article headlined, “Canadas next-door neighbour is now the epicentre of global pandemic. Heres what that U.S. surge means.” This headline assumes the number of infections in both China and Iran as stated by their governments to be correct, while there is evidence that both governments have been lying about the numbers and their rates could be much higher than those in the United States.
In its reports on The Epoch Times, the CBC also repeats a slanderous term used by the CCP against Falun Gong adherents. By repeating the labelling used by a regime that has been torturing and killing Falun Gong adherents in China for over two decades, CBC is helping spread hate propaganda—the very accusation it levels against The Epoch Times in its one-sided reports. Adherents of Falun Gong anywhere in the world would find the term derogatory and hurtful.
What the Special Edition Covers
The Epoch Times special edition is an eight-page broadsheet paper distributed to various neighbourhoods across Canada. According to publisher Gu, this was done because the paper considers “that information to be important to Canadians,” and is also part of “sampling” efforts to raise brand awareness and garner new subscribers.
The cover page of the special edition is headlined, “How the Chinese Communist Party Endangered the World,” with a subheading that reads, “The Chinese Communist Partys coverup led to a pandemic that now threatens the lives of people around the globe. What really happened, and what lessons can we learn?”
The topics included in the special edition are:
-An article on how Beijings coverup of the initial virus outbreak led to a global pandemic;
-An article examining the cancellation of 21 million cellphones in China and its connection with the real death toll due to the virus, as Beijing has not published factual infection and death rates;
-A timeline on key dates and actions showing how the Chinese regime prevented information about the virus outbreak from becoming public, including reprimanding whistleblowers, and key actions taken by Taiwanese and Canadian officials and the outcome of the scale of the pandemic in the two countries;
-An article examining the initial steps Canada took in the face of the outbreak with comments from a Canadian senator on how more prompt action could have reduced infection rates;
-An article on research work looking into how 10,000 fake Twitter accounts linked to Beijing are being used to spread disinformation about the origin of the virus outbreak;
-An article about action taken by U.S. lawmakers to hold Beijing to account for its role in covering up the outbreak;
-An article on how urn shipments to a funeral home in Wuhan indicate a death toll much higher than the one published by officials;
-One version of the special edition in early April included a commentary by an author quoting Chinas former defence minister talking about the need for bioweapons. The author calls for an investigation into the origin of the virus;
-Editorials on why the coronavirus should be called the CCP virus and how countries and regions with closer ties with the Chinese regime were hit the heaviest at the start of the outbreak;
CBCs One-Sided Report
The CBC aired its radio segment on the special edition on the morning of April 29 and published its first online article at 4 a.m. the same day.
The original headline of the article read: “Racist and inflammatory: Canadians upset by Epoch Times claim China behind virus, made it as a bioweapon.”
A man leaves the CBC building in Toronto in a file photo. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)The opening paragraph says The Epoch Times is “coming under fire for advancing a conspiracy theory about the origin of the coronavirus,” but the article doesnt provide any proof of this claim.
It also doesnt provide any proof on how Canadians, or a majority of Canadians, feel about the special edition, as claimed by its headline.
Instead, it quotes a recipient in Kelowna who says, “It did seem to allude to conspiracy theories like, you know, maybe it was manufactured.”
“Is that one individuals opinion the source of a headline speaking for all Canadians?” Gu said in her statement.
The article quotes an unnamed mail carrier who says he didnt want to deliver the special edition to peoples homes and is quoted as saying the edition is “part of a bio-warfare agenda by the Chinese people.” The special issue doesnt make any such claim, however. The CBC reporters and editors again failed to examine and present any proof supporting such an allegation.
CBC then quotes a scientist saying there is high consensus that the virus is not “engineered.” Again, the special edition doesnt make any claim that the virus was engineered.
The article doesnt examine the contents of the special edition. The closest it gets is including a photo of the commentary article titled “Chinas Bioweapon Ambitions.”
In the commentary, the author quotes a former Chinese defence minister talking about biological weapons. At the end, the commentary notes that Chinese authorities havent been transparent about the outbreak and says there should be an investigation.
“There must be an investigation of the outbreak in Wuhan,” the writer argues. “If Chinese officials are innocent, they have nothing to hide. If they are guilty, they will refuse to cooperate.”
The Australian Daily Telegraph published a report on May 2 about a research document by the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, of which Canada is a member, saying China deliberately suppressed or destroyed evidence of the virus in an “assault on international transparency,” costing tens of thousands of lives. The document also has parts that cover the possibility of the virus leaking from the lab, and notes that research on bat-related viruses has been conducted in the lab for years. The Guardian reported on May 4 that intelligence sources told the media there is no current evidence that the virus was leaked from a Chinese lab, and disputed the information reported in the Daily Telegraphs report.
On May 3, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there is “enormous evidence” that the virus outbreak originated in a Chinese lab.
Gu notes in her statement that the Wuhan lab coverage is a very small part of the reporting in the special edition, and that “we simply asked questions, like many others.”
Allegations of Racism
The CBC article quotes the recipient in Kelowna as saying the special edition “feels racist and inflammatory.” This is the basis for the headline of the story.
Gu noted that the special editions focus is the communist regime ruling China, not the people of China. She also said The Epoch Times was founded by Chinese immigrants, and that many of the papers reporters and editors were arrested in China, jailed, and tortured. The CBC didnt report these parts of Gus statement.
Not only does the CBC article say The Epoch Times is affiliated with “the Falun Gong movement” and repeat a slanderous term used by the Chinese regime against the spiritual practice, it also words its coverage of the persecution campaign against Falun Gong in China as “its followers say the Chinese government persecutes them.” In fact, the persecution has been well documented by rights groups, and many governments, including Canadas, have condemned it.
In repeating the regimes derogatory term, the article perpetuates hate against a marginalized group in China, and those who follow the spiritual practice in Canada.
CBCs Journalistic Failures
The CBCs standards of journalism state that it follows the principles of accuracy, fairness, balance, and impartiality.
On accuracy, the standards say, “we invest our time and our skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience.”
In its reporting, the CBC demonstrated that it failed to understand the content of the special edition and instead presented viewpoints from two people as facts.
On fairness, CBCs standards say, “We treat [individuals and organizations] even-handedly.” On balance, the standards say CBC is to reflect “a diversity of opinion,” and on “issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully.” On impartiality, the standards say CBC is not to “promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”
However, the CBCs reporting didnt include any positive feedback on the special edition. It only reflected negative views and made conclusions based on the opinion of two people, a recipient and an unnamed mail carrier.
In Gus April 29 statement in response to the CBC report, she points out these journalistic failings and notes that the broadcasters reporting is “deliberately misleading and intentionally excludes crucial information.”
The statement also points out factual mistakes made by CBC, one being that The Epoch Times is found in street boxes in Canadian cities, while it has been a subscription-only paper since July. It also erroneously said Shen Yun Performing Arts is part of the Epoch Media Group.
The full text of The Epoch Times response to CBC can be found here.
The CBC chose to go ahead with airing TV segments on its report, despite the fact that Gus statement addressing some of the articles many problems was already released.
In one TV segment, the anchor opens by saying, “The Epoch Times is publishing misleading information about the coronavirus.” Another segment, aired on the networks flagship program The National, the anchor says, “The Epoch Times published a conspiracy theory about the origin of the coronavirus and Chinas role.”
It then quotes a Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) representative saying the special editions front cover is “promoting xenophobia towards the Asian community,” and says he wants mail carriers to not have to deliver the special edition.
The CBC report doesnt attempt to substantiate the claim that the special edition is “promoting xenophobia,” which can be done simply by pointing out what the front page states and evaluating it against the definition of xenophobia from any dictionary.
The report says the minister in charge of Canada Post, Anita Anand, rejected CUPWs request, and said the special edition “does not appear to meet the required criteria of the offence of wilful promotion of hatred as established in the Criminal Code of Canada.”