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23 Feb 2021

Canadian TV regulator fails to investigate Chinese TV despite systematic violations

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) has refused to honour a pledge that it would review any violations committed by CCTV-4, China's international Chinese language TV channel (and CGTN), declining to even investigate a comprehensive complaint filed nearly 14 months ago. Almost exactly one year ago, on February 21, 2020, CRTC stated to Safeguard Defenders that the complaint filed "is currently being reviewed by our experts, and there will be follow up at some point". No such follow-up ever occurred. Last week CRTC, when asked by a former senior government official, again stated that the complaint was being "reviewed by our experts".  

On 18 February this year Safeguard Defenders filed an open letter to CRTC's Director General Peter Foster about this lack of action.


Back in 2006, CRTC approved CCTV-4's addition to a digital broadcast list (which allows for it to be broadcast in Canada), following an extensive review with public participation. It did so despite noting several instances of harmful or abusive content. It noted:

… the Commission has found several instances of the service broadcasting content that in its view constitutes abusive comment, these date back to 1999 and 2001, and there is no evidence of such instances aired by CCTV-4 since that time. The Commission is therefore unable to conclude that the offending stories aired in 1999 and 2001 are typical of the content currently aired on CCTV-4.

In light of all of the above, the Commission approves the request by Rogers to add CCTV-4 to the digital lists, thereby authorizing distribution of the service in Canada, and amends the lists of eligible satellite services accordingly. The Commission considers it unnecessary to impose specific conditions on its distribution in addition to those usually applicable to such services on such lists.

Other channels have in the past been given specific conditions to be allowed to be added, but CRTC, despite noting repeated broadcast violations, choose not to do so with CCTV. However, CRTC also noted in its decision, using unusually strong and direct phrasing, that:

At the same time, the Commission notes CITVC’s statements that the Great Wall Package (which includes CCTV-4) “obeys the laws of every country in which its services are broadcast and Canada will be no exception” and “will comply with the provisions of the relevant codes that govern Canadian broadcasters.” The Commission will expect that the CCTV-4 service that will be distributed in Canada will be free of abusive comment.

It was thus made clear the CRTC expected no repeat of those violations it earlier identified and that CCTV-4 would broadcast in line with Canadian regulations. CRTC went even further, stating:

Removal of a service from the lists of eligible satellite services authorized for digital distribution is a remedy that the Commission will be prepared to exercise if it finds that abusive comment has been aired on the service while it is distributed in Canada.

Later, CCTV's English-language TV channel CGTN, as well as the French-language CGTN Francais, were also added.

Based on these clear and direct guidelines on how CRTC would act in the future, Safeguard Defenders collected a significant amount of indisputable evidence of continued airing of abusive and harmful content featuring forced TV confessions, including of Canadian citizens. It focused in detail on two then very recent broadcasts, related to Simon Cheng, by CCTV-4 (in Chinese) and CGTN (in English). It also provided information on nine additional broadcasts with 13 vicitms by CGTN, and 27 broadcasts with 57 victims by CCTV-4 spanning the years 2013 to 2019. It thus shows how CCTV has through its two channels broadcast, at the very least, 36 forced TV confessions with 70 victims, some of which have been broadcast repeatedly and with different packages by different shows on the channels. 

The evidence provided showed not just that abusive and harmful content had been broadcast, but systematically over a period of six years. It proves, Safeguard Defenders believe that these broadcasts are indeed typical of CCTV's mode of operation and broadcast. Since filing the complaint, several of the broadcasts have been convicted of being in severe breach of broadcasting rules in the UK, with decisions to come related to several more such broadcasts. A comprehensive review of this practice has since also been filed with relevant UN organs

Based on CRTC's expectation that CCTV-4 ensure no abusive content be broadcast, and its statement that it can and will remove CCTV-4 from the approved distribution list if abusive content is aired, Safeguard Defenders filed the information expecting a careful review. However, CRTC has now, after a prolonged period of silence, during which it has merely stated that the filed complaint itself is being "reviewed by our experts", written the following - on May 27 - in communication by email with Safeguard Defenders:

"The Commission does not have a formal application to remove the services in question for the list of eligible services in Canada, nor is there a decision with respect to this forthcoming at this stage."

It not only contradicts its earlier statement, but also states that no such review will be performed at all. CRTC has been made aware of its earlier commitments, but responded when asked for clarifications, on June 4, 2020, by stating:

"Good day, 

I am aware you are not an accredited media,"

We would like to note that no system for accreditation for media outside of parliament access exists in Canada, as no special law provides for journalists. Why CRTC would indicate something that isn't true we cannot know.

Read the full complaint filed

CRTC has not reached out to any of the victims named in the complaint. 

It was always the assumption that CRTC would prefer to not deal with the situation that has arisen, and would try to find a way to ensure that no action, even to review the information provided, would be needed. Due to the strong words offered earlier by CRTC, such a way out would only be possible if the issue could be silenced. Which apparently is what CRTC is trying and hoping to do. 

We urge anyone concerned, not merely with the continued broadcast of such content on Canadian airwaves, but those concerned with a government body that refuses to perform its duty either out of fear or malaise, to reach out to CRTC and ask for clarification. CRTC can be reached over the phone at 1-877-249-2782 and via email at

We note that once the UK's TV-regulator merely opened an investigation into broadcasting of forced TV confessions on its English language channel, such broadcast stopped immediately and for almost a year. We further note that the very same day that complaint was filed, highlighted by a press conference in London, CCTV called an emergency evening on Friday evening that lasted all weekend. We note that neither Canadians Michael Kovrig nor Michael Spavor has been forced to perform these confessions, despite being very suitable victims based on past behavior by CCTV and Chinese police. Forceful action by a TV regulator has already been a key reason why several Canadians have not been made victims of this practice. 

In view of CCTV being tasked by Xi Jinping and the CCP to expand its soft power and reach, it is, for obvious reasons, very cautious about being reviewed and held to broadcasting standards. Because of that, CRTC has the power to directly, merely by thorough investigation, counter human rights abuses in China, and protect future Canadian victims of such violations.