Canada’s public broadcaster CBC shutting Beijing bureau

CBC says it ‘can’t get visas for journalists’ to work in China as permanent correspondents, prompting bureau closure.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has announced it is shutting its bureau in China after more than four decades, citing an ongoing, years-long wait for work visas for its reporters in Beijing.

Editor-in-Chief Brodie Fenlon said in a blog post on Wednesday that CBC’s French-language service, Radio-Canada Info, applied for a visa for its Beijing correspondent in October 2020.

“Despite numerous exchanges with the Chinese consulate in Montreal and requests for meetings over the last two years, there is still no visa,” he said, adding that CBC’s correspondent in the Chinese capital returned to Canada after the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and has not returned.

“While there was no dramatic expulsion or pointed public statements, the effect is the same. We can’t get visas for our journalists to work there as permanent correspondents,” Fenlon said.

“There is no point keeping an empty bureau when we could easily set up elsewhere in a different country that welcomes journalists and respects journalistic scrutiny.”

The move comes after Russia announced in May that it was closing CBC’s Moscow bureau in response to the Canadian government’s decision to ban the Russian broadcaster Russia Today amid the war in Ukraine.

Canada’s relations with Russia and China have been tested in recent years, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regularly speaking out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and China’s human rights record, respectively.

Tensions between Ottawa and Beijing ramped up in June when Canada accused China of harassing its aircraft carrying out United Nations sanctions patrols near North Korea. The Chinese government responded by accusing the Canadian military of “provocations” and warned Canada that it could face “severe consequences”.

Meanwhile, rights groups have raised alarm about press freedom in China for years.

An annual survey by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China released in late January concluded that media freedom was deteriorating in the country at “breakneck speed”. Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, also warned last year that China continued to take internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to “unprecedented levels”.

Last week, the United States also condemned the fraud conviction of Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, warning that the Chinese territory’s human rights protections were deteriorating and its once-vibrant press “has all but disappeared”.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Reuters news agency on CBC’s decision on Wednesday.

“Closing the Beijing bureau is the last thing we want to do, but our hand has been forced. Our commitment to covering China and East Asia is steadfast. We will begin the process of finding a new home base in the months ahead,” Fenlon said in the blog post.

“We hope China will someday open up again to our journalists, just as we hope Russia will one day reconsider its decision to expel us.”

Sasa Petricic, CBC’s last permanent correspondent in Beijing, said he hoped the Canadian broadcaster would be able to return to China because “being there remains [the] best way” to tell the story.

“In the 5 [years] I was there, official roadblocks made it increasingly difficult to report, and Beijing [was] unresponsive in granting new visas to CBC,” Petricic wrote on Twitter.

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