August 29, 2016 / 7:42 PM / in a year

Chinese TV host accuses Canada tourism body of censorship

TORONTO (Reuters) - A Chinese talk show host has accused a Canadian government-backed tourism organization of censoring discussion of the country’s aboriginal issues on his program and says it caused an episode to be dropped.

Gao Xiaosong, also head of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s music division, made the accusation on his Weibo Chinese microblog on Saturday, two days before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embarked on his first official visit to China.

Gao wrote that he had interviewed a Canadian aboriginal chief for an episode of his show, “Xiaosong Pedia,” due to be shown last Friday on the online video site iQIYI.

The unnamed chief praised Trudeau’s and New Zealand’s approaches to aboriginals, but criticized Canada’s treatment of his people in the past, Gao wrote.

Gao wrote that tourism agency Destination Canada then applied pressure on iQIYI through a sponsor, asking for nearly half of what was at least a 40-minute episode to be cut.

Asked about the incident, Destination Canada said it engaged the travel site Ctrip.Com International Ltd to produce “four tourism videos,” and it in turn hired iQIYI as a supplier.

“Destination Canada sees this type of contract as a paid editorial,” the agency said. “In advance of production, Destination Canada provides a briefing and guidelines.”

Gao, iQIYI and Ctrip did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gao’s program bills itself as a weekly general interest talk show. At least one episode, about the city of Vancouver and uploaded on Aug. 19, appeared to have been shot in Canada.

Ctrip’s logo appears frequently in that episode. Gao wrote that he usually complies when asked to feature an advertiser, but the program’s content has never faced interference. Gao did not give details on what ensued after Destination Canada’s request, which was relayed through iQIYI. He wrote only that his contract with iQIYI requires mutual consent to broadcast an episode, and that the request was unacceptable. “Speaking the truth is Xiaosong’s fundamental value,” he wrote, referencing a Chinese saying: “Better to be broken jade than whole pottery.”

Trudeau’s Liberal party came to power last November promising to rebuild ties with Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginal people, who on average suffer from higher rates of crime, poverty and addiction.

In an email-chain screenshot posted by Gao, a Destination Canada official, whose name had been redacted, wrote in red typeface that the episode brought up an “unpleasant past” and that such content “definitely cannot appear.”

Reporting by Ethan Lou in Toronto; Editing by Dan Grebler

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