Talentvision re a News Report (Mainland China Murders)

NATIONAL SPECIALTY SERVICES PANEL
(CBSC Decision 01/02-0416+)
R. Cohen (Chair), P. O'Neill (Vice-Chair), R. Cugini, R. Deverell,E. Duffy-MacLean, M. Hogarth and F. Niemi

THE FACTS

At about 8:30 pm on December 16, 2001, the Chinese-language broadcaster Talentvision TV aired a segment of the Mainland China broadcaster Chinese Central Television (CCTV) “Chinese Satellite News” which featured a news story on Fu Yi-bin, who was accused with having killed his wife and his father. The segment began with a view of the outside of the building in which the murders had taken place and then cut back and forth four times between the blood-soaked walls of the apartment and an interview with the accused, which, on one occasion, was followed by a brief statement from a police officer. The item concluded with a video bit on an unidentified person practising Falun Gong and some shots of cassettes and books. A Talentvision news anchor introduced the tape of the news item, which had been supplied by CCTV. The voice-over was by the CCTV reader; the accused and the police officer were interviewed on-screen.

The translation was supplied to the CBSC by Talentvision. Two members of the Falun Dafa Association of Canada, the principal complainant in this matter, reviewed the broadcaster's English-language transcript along with the video tape of the news item and proposed some changes, all of which, except one (the closing CCTV newsreader statement), were accepted by Talentvision. The CBSC then sought its own expert opinion of that closing statement and it is the CBSC-generated version that is included in the translation provided here. In the interests of completeness, the Talentvision and Falun Dafa versions are also given following the CBSC's amalgamated transcript.

Talentv’n Anchor: On the 25th, in Beijing, a Falun Gong follower brutally murdered his father and wife, and seriously injured his mother with his own hands. The means he used to kill his parents and wife was extremely cruel. He explained that this would send him and his family to the “World of Ultimate Bliss” where they could share eternal happiness.

: The murderer is named Fu Yi-bin. Police officers who arrived at the scene said they were all shocked at the sight of this extreme cruelty. Fu Yi-bin explained his motivations for his crime in an interrogation.

: After I killed the three of them, their spirit and their body would enter my lower abdomen directly. There, they will form a universal system similar to the one of the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. This system will rotate in my Dantian [lower abdomen area], which is the central foundation of the rotating Falun.

CCTV VO: In order to achieve individual “completion [or perfection]”, Fu Yi-bin brutally chopped his father and wife to death, and seriously injured his mother.

Fu Yi-bin: I am no longer a human being. I have ascended to become a “supernatural being”. A supernatural being does not have emotions.

Policeman: According to Fu Yi-bin himself, his wife was crawling towards the elevator, wanting to seek help by banging on the elevator's gate. Attempting to avoid this being seen, Fu Yi-bin took hold of his wife's hands and legs, hauling her back to this door from the elevator.

Fu Yi-bin: Then I got exhausted and rested on the sofa. Helpers arrived and tried to resuscitate them, saying “this one's still breathing, let's rescue this one”… Who could still be rescued? They were already minced! What's the point of saving their lives? This goes to show you the importance human beings place on the physical body of a person!

CCTV VO: According to investigation, the suspect, Fu Yi-bin, was a caring and loving son and husband. All that changed when he started practising Falun Gong in 1998. Being obsessed with and influenced through, and spiritually controlled by Li Hong-zhi and the Falun Gong evil cult organization, he marched toward the edge of criminality until he became so utterly inhumane as to murder his father and wife.

The Talentvision translation of the final CCTV statement follows:

CCTV VO: According to investigation, the suspect, Fu Yi-bin, was a caring and loving son and husband. All that changed when he started practising Falun Gong in 1998. After indulging in, being influenced through, and spiritually controlled by Li Hong-zhi and the Falun Gong evil cult organization, he marched toward the edge of criminality until he became so utterly inhumane as to murder his father and wife.

The Falun Dafa Association translation of the final CCTV statement follows:

: According to investigation, the suspect, Fu Yi-bin, was a caring and loving son and husband. All that changed when he started practising Falun Gong in 1998 and became obsessed. Being influenced through, and spiritually controlled by Li Hong-zhi and the Falun Gong evil cult organization, he marched toward the edge of criminality until he became so utterly inhumane as to murder his father and wife.

Complaints were sent to either the CRTC or the CBSC directly by twenty individuals, one of which (from the Falun Dafa Association of Canada) was signed by 1,282 people. All of the files ultimately arrived in the hands of the CBSC.

The petition, which expressed the general position of the Association regarding the Chinese Government and the relationship between the two, stated in principal part (the full text of the petition and all of the correspondence can be found in the Appendix):

Whereas […] TalentVision TV [… has] broadcast programming by Chinese Central Television (CCTV) which has defamed and inspired hate against Falun Gong practitioners in Toronto; and

Whereas CCTV is a Chinese government state run programmer whose mandate is to promote the directives, views and propaganda of the Chinese Communist government; and

Whereas the unlawful persecution of Falun Gong in China is now being perpetuated in Canada via live, unscreened satellite feeds of CCTV hate inspiring programming in the form of Chinese government propaganda being broadcast over Canadian airwaves which is causing direct harm to Falun Gong practitioners in Canada […]

The petition was accompanied by two letters, which were more specifically related to the challenged newscast. The first said in part:

The story about Falun Gong reflected the bias and ignorance of the reporter and the program producer. It portrayed Falun Gong practitioners to be mentally ill people. Its derogary [sic] tone and remarks about Falun Gong made the audience become hostile towards the people that practise it.

It was very evident that the 30-minute news reports are a reproduction of news from the CCTV Channel 4 of China. CCTV is a state-controlled network.

It is absolutely unacceptable to me to see CCTV 4 news being freely broadcasted [sic] in Canada, spreading lies and deceiving innocent Canadians.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that teaches one how to lives [sic] his/her life according to the universal principle Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance. […]

It would be greatly appreciated if CRTC could look into the situation and request Talentvision to stop spreading lies and promoting hatred among Chinese Canadians.

The second letter read in principal part as follows:

We are writing to you out of serious concern regarding the fact that Chinese Central Television (CCTV), the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Government, is now broadcasting and airing hate-inspiring propaganda on our Canadian airwaves. As Falun Gong practitioners here in Canada, we have been directly affected by this harmful programming. We would like to bring this inappropriate broadcasting to your attention and we hope that together with your help we can quickly resolve this matter and prevent such slanderous and hate-inspiring programmes from being aired in the future.

CCTV is a state-run programmer of the Chinese Government and has the mandate to promote the directives and views of the Chinese Communist Party. Included in these directives is the current brutal and widespread persecution and defamation of practitioners of Falun Gong, a peaceful spiritual practice that is enjoyed by millions in China and many here in Canada as well.

Live and unscreened satellite feeds of CCTV are now being passed directly from China onto Canadian cable television stations, carrying propaganda that is attacking, slandering and inspiring hate against those who practise Falun Gong.

On December 16, 2001, the newly licensed Chinese broadcast station Talentvision TV aired a segment of CCTV's “Chinese Satellite News” in which a news story exhibited graphic, brutal images of mutilated bodies covered in blood lying in a blood-soaked apartment. This news segment looked much like a graphic horror film. The news announcer proceeded to claim that this act was committed by a Falun Gong practitioner. The accused “Falun Gong practitioner” then appeared in an interview, freely answering questions aimed at defaming Falun Gong. We would like to affirm that Falun Gong, its teachings and its practitioners are entirely peaceful and prohibit all forms of violence and killing. These broadcasts are damaging and hurtful to those good people who practise Falun Gong as they help to fuel the Chinese government's persecution campaign in China. They have used their defamation claims to justify their harsh persecution.

[…] According to Article 5(1) of CRTC’s Television Broadcasting Regulations, 1987:

  • A licensee shall not broadcast anything in contravention of the law; any abusive comment or abusive pictorial representation that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability;
  • any obscene or profane language or pictorial representation; or any false or misleading news

We feel that CCTV broadcasts clearly contravene (b), (c) and (d). In terms of the intention of this propaganda to inspire hate against innocent people because of their belief in Falun Gong, we also feel it is also in contradiction to (a). […]

The President of Talentvision responded to all of the complainants in the month of January in the following terms:

This news item, produced by China Central TV (“CCTV”), reported on a multiple killing case in China, where the alleged murderer, shown as a middle-aged Chinese man, butchered his parents and his wife in their home; confessed to be a Falun Gong practitioner; and claimed his behaviour was part of his process in making his Falun Gong practice complete.

Your comments towards the coverage of the news story may be summarized as follows:

1) Since CCTV is controlled by the Chinese Government, it is largely a propaganda tool and as such its news production should not be aired in Canada;

2) The news footage contained graphic scenes including dead bodies and pools of blood that were inappropriate to air;

3) The reporting defamed the Falun Gong movement implying that it caused insanity and acts of violence; and

4) By airing this murder case, Talentvision has no compassion for, and helped promulgating [sic] hatred toward, Falun Gong members.

We regret that you were offended and/or extremely disturbed by this story, and that some of you even seemed to have interpreted the broadcast as Talentvision's deliberate attempt to assist CCTV and the Chinese Government. Upon receipt of your complaints, we have reviewed objectively and carefully the appropriateness of airing the story, re-evaluating our decision in light of your concerns. We would like to address each of the above concerns with the following response:

1) Talentvision primarily serves Mandarin-speaking Chinese Canadians and in its mandate provides news that is of interest to its viewers. This includes Canadian news, world news and news from the homelands of many viewers, namely Mainland China and Taiwan. We make use of the best news sources available; for news from Mainland China and Taiwan this includes organizations based in these countries. Being State-owned does not disqualify CCTV from being a legitimate news source. However, Talentvision is sensitive to the programming that is aired in Canada and where appropriate, not all items available from foreign sources are broadcast on our station.

2) The story reported on a heinous and violent act. While graphic details were televised of the bloodied scene, no picture of the bodies was aired contrary to comments made by some viewers. A warning of the graphic nature of any type of potentially disturbing upcoming footage would be well-advised in the future.

3) In our view, the story reported that the alleged killer was insane, and in his insanity, had formed some warped rationale for the murders, which involved his notions of Falun Gong. We did not believe our viewers would infer that practising Falun Gong would lead to insanity and acts of violence. Canadians are familiar with Falun Gong, thanks in part to the media attention Talentvision and other western media companies have given Falun Gong in educating the public on its values and beliefs. We can assure you that Talentvision was by no means attempting to criticize or evaluate Falun Gong and Falun Dafa's followers.

4) Talentvision has had a long history of adhering very closely to the regulations set for Canadian broadcasters and uses every effort in maintaining a fair, neutral and balanced position in our news broadcasts. We have, since the inception of Falun Gong, provided our audience with many opportunities to gain a better understanding of the various views, issues and angles related to the practice. Consequently, there was no reason for us to believe that the December 16 news report, where the insanity rather than the practice of Falun Gong was the overriding characteristic of the alleged criminal, would inspire hatred of Falun Gong practitioners.

The material's source was clearly stated as CCTV and any skepticism regarding the authenticity of the murders, alleged murderer and his involvement in practising Falun Gong are subject to the credibility of this source. Talentvision will not knowingly act as a propaganda agent for anyone and believes very strongly in human rights and the freedom of the press. In allowing our audience this view into China via CCTV and given Falun Gong's status in China, perhaps it would have been prudent before/after the segment aired for our news announcer to have reminded our viewers of the source of this program and the differing status of Falun Gong in both countries.

Of the twenty complainants, thirteen returned their Ruling Requests. The Falun Dafa Association's Ruling Request was accompanied by a letter which stated in part:

I am sorry to inform you that we are not satisfied with your response. In your letter you made an effort to summarize our complaint into 5 points. I felt our complaint can simply be summarized in the following:

Since China started to crack down on Falun Gong in July 1999, CCTV has never shown anything but severely distorted views of Falun Gong. The role CCTV has been playing on this matter is to spread orchestrated lies about Falun Gong to demonize this innocent group and justify the Chinese authority's persecution. CCTV's news regarding Falun Gong is false and misleading. These news [sic] incites hate and should not be aired in Canada.

The letter went on to cite correspondence from Amnesty International and other sources. Considerable documentation was also annexed to the correspondence. The Association letter also stated:

The teaching of Falun Gong forbids killing, including suicide. Please find attached to this letter, section “The Issue of Killing” in Chapter 7 of Zhuan Falun, the main book that expounded the teaching of Falun Gong, where Mr. Li, Hongzhi stressed time and again that practitioners of Falun Gong cannot kill lives [sic].

THE DECISION

The National Specialty Services Panel considered the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics, Voluntary Code regarding Violence in Television Programming and the Radio and Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 (News):

It shall be the responsibility of member stations to ensure that news shall be represented with accuracy and without bias. The member station shall satisfy itself that the arrangements made for obtaining news ensure this result. It shall also ensure that news broadcasts are not editorial. News shall not be selected for the purpose of furthering or hindering either side of any controversial public issue, nor shall it be designed by the beliefs or opinions or desires of the station management, the editor or others engaged in its preparation or delivery. The fundamental purpose of news dissemination in a democracy is to enable people to know what is happening, and to understand events so that they may form their own conclusions.

It is recognized that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.

CAB Violence Code, Article 6.0 (News & Public Affairs Programming):

6.1 Broadcasters shall use appropriate editorial judgment in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence, aggression or destruction within their news and public affairs programming.

6.2 Caution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 1 (Accuracy):

Broadcast journalists will inform the public in an accurate, comprehensive and fair manner about events and issues of importance.

RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Article 2 (Equality):

Broadcast journalists will report factors such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability only when they are relevant.

The National Panel Adjudicators viewed a tape of the program in question and reviewed the correspondence and documentation. The Panel considers that the references to Falun Gong in the news report constituted unfair comment, on the one hand, and that the repetition of the violent video clips was excessive, on the other. It finds no fault with the broadcaster, though, in airing a newscast originating with the state-run television organ, CCTV.

Relevance of the Origin of the Newscast

Much of the concern of the Falun Dafa Association has been linked to the source of the newscast in question, namely, CCTV. As they said in their reply of March 20 to the broadcaster's letter,

Since China started to crack down on Falun Gong in July 1999, CCTV has never shown anything but severely distorted views of Falun Gong. The role CCTV has been playing on this matter is to spread orchestrated lies about Falun Gong to demonize this innocent group and justify the Chinese authority's persecution.

It is the view of the Panel that the foregoing issue is not germane to the matter under review. Whether or not the view of the Chinese Government toward Falun Gong is or is not accurately described by the Association (and the Panel expresses no view on that issue), the Panel's decision must relate solely to Talentvision and what it has broadcast. In this respect, the Panel is of the view that Talentvision's explanation of its mandate is both clear and fair:

Talentvision primarily serves Mandarin-speaking Chinese Canadians and in its mandate provides news that is of interest to its viewers. This includes Canadian news, world news and news from the homelands of many viewers, namely Mainland China and Taiwan. We make use of the best news sources available; for news from Mainland China and Taiwan this includes organizations based in these countries.

More telling is the following statement by the President of Talentvision, “Being State-owned does not disqualify CCTV from being a legitimate news source,” a position to which the Panel unhesitatingly subscribes. The broadcaster has the right to choose which items from foreign sources it will air in order to serve the interests of its audience and, correspondingly, the broadcaster bears the obligation to ensure that these are not in breach of applicable laws, regulations or codes. There is no reason to exclude a story, news item or program on the sole basis of its origin. The broadcaster, duty-bound to consider its statutory, regulatory and codified responsibilities, will best exercise those by weighing the substance of the prospective broadcast rather than its nominal origins. While, as will be seen below, the Panel disagrees with the airing of this newscast, it is for reasons other than those proffered by the complainants. On this issue, it considers the broadcaster's riposte to them entirely apt.

The Relevance of the Murderer's Background

The Panel is not at all certain that this story would have made the news in China or in Canada but for the connection drawn by the producer of the story to an individual alleged to be a member of Falun Gong. Nor is it clear to the Panel that the news story has credibly established a link between the accused's connection, if any, to Falun Gong, and the murders, as explained below. While Article 2 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics requires that such factors as “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability” are to be reported “only when they are relevant,” the Panel does not consider that that provision is of assistance in this matter. According to the Falun Dafa Association's own documents, “Falun Gong is neither a religion nor a sect. [It is] a peaceful, self-improvement spiritual practice.” Consequently, it would not be seen to be either a religion or any other identifiable group falling into the enumerated categories in Article 2 of the RTNDA Code expressly or by analogy. It is not, in any event, the view of the Panel that Article 2 is necessary to its conclusion in this regard.

The story, as broadcast, is tightly linked to the Falun Gong background of Fu Yi-bin, the alleged (and apparently self-confessed) murderer. It begins by identifying Fu Yi-bin in the first sentence of the report as “a Falun Gong follower”. It concludes by stating that Fu had been “a caring and loving son and husband”, which “changed when he started practising Falun Gong in 1998.” It then adds that his “[march] toward the edge of criminality” was the result of his being “spiritually controlled by Li Hong-zhi [the founder of Falun Gong] and the Falun Gong evil cult organization.” The Panel considers that this approach to a news story is highly unusual and irregular. If in any news context, generally speaking, there were a link between any individual and a group or association, it would only be mentioned if it either assisted in identifying the individual in the mind of the public or established a causal relationship between the link and the event. Thus, when a murder appears, for example, to result from gang rivalries, a “settling of accounts”, a turf dispute or the like, it may be both relevant and in the public interest to identify the families, groups or gangs involved. Even where the head of a powerful organized family dies of natural causes, he will be generally (and justifiably) identified in his “professional” capacity. The connection will not, however, be woven into every section of such a story, even where that news item relates to a criminal activity. Nor would such judgmental words as “evil” be used to describe a motorcycle gang or an organized criminal family.

Since Fu Yi-bin was apparently not a public figure, there would certainly not have been any justification to identify him and his criminal act so constantly as Falun Gong-related. It must also be admitted that it would be most unusual, in a North American judicial environment, to have an accused making such confessions in a television interview as Fu Yi-bin made on this news segment. Had there even been such a causal relationship between the accused and Falun Gong, it would not have been reported in such a manner. The language in the sentence, his “[march] toward the edge of criminality” was the result of his being “spiritually controlled by Li Hong-zhi [the founder of Falun Gong] and the Falun Gong evil cult organization” is not journalism; it is nothing more or less than a biased attack on Falun Gong by the producer of that news item. Whether or not such a report is acceptable, even if not commendable, in Mainland China, the Canadian broadcaster of this imported report must ensure that it meets the standards of broadcast journalism of this country. The Panel finds that the report has not been done in a “fair manner”, as prescribed by Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, nor has it been “fair and proper”, as required by Clause 6, paragraph 3, of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Violence in the News Report

The CAB Violence Code requires of television broadcasters that “appropriate editorial judgment [be used] in the reporting of, and the pictorial representation of violence […] within their news and public affairs programming” and that “[c]aution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.” In CITY-TV re an episode of Hard Copy (CBSC Decision 96/97-0055, May 8, 1997), the Ontario Regional Panel applied these two important provisions to a subject in which the public had a considerable interest, namely, child abuse, and found that, while the story needed to be told, there were problems with the way that story was told. It found

that the repetition of the video segment, in whole or in part, on 9 separate occasions throughout the report was disproportionate to its relevance in presenting the story. No new information was conveyed in the repetition of the video and no new perspective was provided to the story by the repeated use of the disturbing pictures generated by the hidden surveillance camera.

The issue of repetition of violent material is specifically addressed in clause 6.2 of the Code which states that “caution shall be used in the selection of, and repetition of, video which depicts violence.” [Emphasis added.] The Council finds that CITY-TV failed to meet this standard in broadcasting this segment of Hard Copy. Moreover, the cumulative effect of the excessive repetition of the video was to distort and sensationalize the story

In CHAN-TV re Newscast (Toronto Subway Death) (CBSC Decision 97/98-0383, May 20, 1998), the B.C. Regional Panel dealt with a news item on a Toronto subway murder which aired on the 6:00 pm newscast of Vancouver's CHAN-TV (BCTV). A viewer complained of the inclusion in that report of “a close view of the dying but still partly conscious woman's bloodstained face.” The Panel found that, by including a video shot of the lacerated and bloody face of the victim, BCTV unnecessarily depicted the violence associated with that tragedy, contrary to the provisions of the Violence Code:

While […] the B.C. Regional Council accepts that the news story was inherently violent asome pictorial representation of the violence that occurred may have been acceptable, it finds that the shot of the victim's face as she lay dying on the paramedics' gurney was utterly unnecessary to the story. It added no clarification of any of the issues, no expository value to the sad tale, and no information which the viewer required to understand the series of events. The additional depiction could only have been calculated to make a viewer cringe or, at least, feel discomfited.nd that

This Panel concludes similarly with respect to the reporting of the murders in China; it was fair to bring these to the attention of the public. However gruesome by its nature, murder is an offence against the state legal order in almost any country and the reporting of homicides is a matter in the public interest. There are, though, as the CBSC decisions cited above reflect, limits on reporting, which are equally in the public interest. Broadcasters and news directors have determined that appropriate editorial judgment shall be used in the selection of footage to accompany news stories and, as though to emphasize that point, they provide separately that caution shall be used in that selection as well as in the repetition of the footage selected. In the case at hand, there are no fewer than four separate video clips of the blood-soaked apartment. In the view of the Panel, the point about the particularly gruesome nature of the family murders was achieved by the use of the clip once; the additional airings were excessive and constituted inappropriate repetition of violent footage in a news report, contrary to the provisions of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code and Clause 6 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Broadcaster Responsiveness

Broadcaster responsiveness is always an issue assessed in CBSC adjudications. The CBSC considers that the dialogue between broadcasters and complainants is an extremely positive component of the self-regulatory process; it is in fact a membership responsibility of all CBSC broadcaster members. In this case, the Panel considers that the President of Talentvision provided a very detailed and reasoned reply to the issues raised by the complainants and has thus fully complied with its obligations of responsiveness.

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

Talentvision is required to: 1) announce this decision, in the following terms (translated by Talentvision into Mandarin Chinese), once during prime time within three days following the release of this decision and once more within seven days following the release of this decision during the time period in which the challenged newscast was broadcast; 2) within fourteen days following the broadcast of the announcements, to provide written confirmation of the airing of the announcements to the complainants who filed Ruling Requests; and 3) at the same time, to provide the CBSC with those written confirmations and with air check copies of the broadcasts of the two announcements which must be made by Talentvision. Since the correspondence with the complainants took place in English, it will be acceptable to the CBSC that the written confirmations in requirement (2) be provided in English.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that Talentvision breached the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics andViolence Code and the Radio and Television News Directors Code of (Journalistic) Ethics in its broadcast of a news item on December 16, 2001. The Council has found that the news item relating to murders committed in Mainland China was unfair and improper in its method of linking the murderer to Falun Gong, as required by Article 1 of the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics and Clause 6, paragraph 3, of the CAB Code of Ethics. It also found that the repetitive use of video clips of the blood-soaked location of the murders constituted a breach of the requirement of broadcasters to use appropriate editorial judgment in the selection of video depictions and caution in the repetition of such footage, contrary to the requirements of Articles 6.1 and 6.2 of the CAB Violence Code.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.