CBC shutting down its China news bureau

CBC News is shutting down its Beijing news bureau after a more-than-40-year presence in China, saying it was forced to take the step after officials have ignored repeated requests for a journalist work visa.  (Samantha Nar/CBC - image credit)
CBC News is shutting down its Beijing news bureau after a more-than-40-year presence in China, saying it was forced to take the step after officials have ignored repeated requests for a journalist work visa. (Samantha Nar/CBC - image credit)

CBC News is shutting down its Beijing news bureau after a more-than-40-year presence in China, saying it was forced to take the step after officials have ignored repeated requests for a journalist work visa.

"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 CBC News editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon, announcing the move in a blog posted Wednesday.

"Closing the Beijing bureau is the last thing we want to do, but our hand has been forced."

The decision follows numerous exchanges and requests for meetings with the Chinese Consulate in Montreal since October 2020 to procure a visa for Philippe Leblanc, a journalist with Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language counterpart.

Another attempt was made in April, with a letter to China's ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu. While receipt of the letter was acknowledged, Fenlon said, nothing else followed.

"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," he wrote.

The CBC's last Beijing correspondent, Saša Petricic, returned to Canada after China locked down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. CBC has only been back to China once since, Fenlon noted, to cover the 2022 Winter Olympics and coverage was tightly restricted.

In January, a report published by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China said it was "troubled by the breakneck speed by which media freedom is declining in China."

The report also stated that officials were using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to delay approvals for new journalist visas, shut down reporting trips and decline interview requests.

While CBC looks for a new home in East Asia, Leblanc will work from a new post in Taiwan for the next two years.

The shuttering of the Beijing bureau also comes as CBC journalists continue to be barred from Russia. The network's Moscow bureau was forcibly closed in May in retaliation for Ottawa's broadcast ban of the Russian channels, RT and RT France.

The expulsion of CBC's journalists from Russia came after a 44-year presence in Moscow and is believed to be the first time in the broadcaster's history that a government forced the closure of one of its bureaus.

"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," Fenlon wrote in his blog.

"When it comes to Russia and China, at this moment in time, at least, we will have to find new and different ways to continue to bring Canadians the best in international and world coverage of events and people in the region."