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Canadian broadcaster CBC closes China bureau after visa delays

On Wednesday, Canada’s public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), announced in an editor’s note it will shutter its Beijing news bureau after more than 40 years in China. It made the decision after waiting more than two years for Chinese authorities to approve a journalist visa for Philippe Leblanc, China correspondent with CBC-owned French-language service Radio-Canada Info.

CBC News editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon wrote in his note that the broadcaster’s “hand had been forced.” He added, “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.”

“Chinese authorities should allow the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to operate in China by granting correspondent Philippe Leblanc a journalist visa,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Frankfurt, Germany. “Delaying visas for journalists is effectively denying them the ability to report in China and severely curtails press freedom, at a time meaningful reporting on China is needed more than ever.”

The outlet has repeatedly requested meetings with the Chinese consulate in Montreal over the last two years and in April sent a letter to Chinese ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu asking authorities to grant Leblanc a visa, but received nothing more than acknowledgement that the letter was received, Fenlon said. Fenlon said that Leblanc is now posted in Taiwan.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately reply to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. In response to CPJ’s email query, Fenlon declined to comment further and pointed CPJ to the editor’s note on the matter.

According to a January report by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China, authorities use delayed visa application and renewal processes to create labor shortages for foreign media organizations in attempts to obstruct their work.

In 2019, China refused to renew the visa of Wall Street Journal reporter Chun Han Wong and declined to renew the visa of BuzzFeed News reporter Megha Rajagopalan in August 2018; separately, American journalist Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s application for a visa to work as a Beijing correspondent for Agence France-Presse never received a reply and Chinese authorities told the agency to submit a different candidate, as CPJ documented.

With CBC’s departure, there are no Canadian media outlets with a permanent presence in China. Australia also no longer has journalists in the country after two working for Australian media left in 2020 after Chinese authorities sought to question them about a “national security case.” CPJ

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