CBC Closes Office in Beijing

‘Our hand has been forced’

CBC News announced on Tuesday that it is shutting down its Beijing office after more than 40 years in operation. The public broadcaster’s decision comes following two years of unsuccessful efforts to secure visas for its journalists. CBC said it had received no response to its requests from both the Chinese consulate in Montreal and the Chinese embassy in Ottawa to obtain journalist work visas. CBC News’ Editor-in-Chief, Brodie Fenlon, acknowledged that while they have not necessarily been barred from China, the radio silence on visa applications has the same effect. “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,” said Fenlon.

Systemic challenges . . .

CBC’s move to pull out of China is not an isolated incident but part of broader systemic issues facing media outlets and journalists operating in or reporting on China. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s Media Freedoms 2021 report notes that 99 per cent of respondents in its annual survey of foreign journalists thought reporting conditions in China did not meet international standards. The report highlights widespread difficulties for journalists and media outlets in China including the inability to renew visas, threat of lawsuits, police or official obstruction, and being surveilled or detained. In response, many foreign media outlets have moved bureaus and journalists from mainland China to elsewhere in the region. For example, The Globe and Mail’s current Asia correspondent is based in Hong Kong, and outlets from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the U.S., and elsewhere have either lost or have decreased ability for on-the-ground reporting in China over the last few years.

Tensions remain . . .

China is not the only country where CBC has faced challenges. In May, Russia forced CBC to close its doors in Moscow and expelled its journalists after a 44-year presence in the country in response to Canadian authorities’ move in March to bar the broadcasting of two Russian state-run TV outlets over concerns that they were abusively targeting Ukrainians. CBC said it would look for an alternative location in the region to cover Asia, and that Radio-Canada, CBC’s French-language counterpart, will move its journalist to Taiwan. CBC’s last reporter in Beijing posted on Twitter that he hopes they will be able to return to China, as being on the ground is the best way to report on the country. CBC’s announcement is a stark reminder that hurdles remain in Canada-China relations following the Meng Wanzhou-‘Two Michaels’ standoff.