Last week, I wrote in support of boycotting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing because of human rights abuses in China directly related to next year’s event.
This week, I’m considering something much more difficult.
Countless companies are complicit in making China a horrible place to live for its 1.3 billion inhabitants.
Do I boycott those as well?
Should I have to?
I will not try to list all of the guilty companies here. I will look at one a company that Canadians can have a real effect on — the CBC.
You might remember my intellectually cool-hearted friend from last week who shocked me by vowing to boycott television coverage of the Beijing Olympics.
Well, I should tell you that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation had about as much to do with his decision as China’s rap sheet.
CBC paid a Canadian record of $45 million to broadcast the Beijing Olympics (part of a $165-million package deal for five Olympics back in 1998).
It seems a small sum considering the rate of inflation on Olympic broadcasting rights these days. CTV, which won the Olympics away from CBC for the first time since 1996, will pay $90 million to broadcast the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver (part of a $153-million package for the 2010 and 2012 Games).
And it is a relative sum too.
On the one hand, $45 million buys you one Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jet, a Canada Winter Games Centre in Whitehorse or a year’s worth of upgrades to roads, sewers and community centres throughout rural Yukon.
On the other hand, $45 million is one-tenth of what the richest countries in the world pledged to Africa at the last G8 Summit to combat AIDS, TB and Malaria.
In other words, domestically, $45 million buys us something tangible and significant, but on a global scale, $45 million is almost nothing at all.
But unlike CTV, which is a private company that will be spending its own money to cover Beijing, CBC is a public entity that will be showcasing Beijing using tens of millions in public funds.
If you recall CBC’s coverage of the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, the stories coming out of China are likely to be pieces about the local cuisine and ‘culture,’ with some compulsory yet benign qualifiers about the West’s perception of China as ‘brutal’ tacked on for ‘balance.’
To be fair, CBC has not avoided the human rights angle there.
Last month, it broadcast a documentary mini-series entitled China Rises, a joint effort between CBC, the New York Times, Discovery Times, ZDF, France 5 and S4C, which will be rebroadcast later this month.
I didn’t see it. I don’t have to. The real test for CBC is not what it does now, but what it does when it is officially planted in Beijing to cover the Games in August, 2008.
One thing is certain, like every other network there, it will takes its seat and report on sporting events as if the indignities that have taken place in China over the past several years to prepare for the Olympics never happened.
Beijing is not Vancouver, after all.
Stories of Vancouver’s underclass being ‘cleaned up’ in anticipation of the 2010 Olympics have met with outrage by some.
But relocating the homeless and the addicted from the city’s East Side is nothing compared to the labour camps Beijing dissidents are being locked away in as part of that city’s pre-Olympic cleanup.
My friend doesn’t want his hard-earned dollars spent this way — endorsing the Chinese regime.
His view is that the CBC shouldn’t go at all.
I am not so certain. What if, outside the sporting event, CBC and other broadcasters surprise us and reveal the China that we’ve all heard about our entire lives?
The 2008 Olympics is a huge opportunity for the world to hold China responsible for its human rights record and demand change before it can be let in to the club of democratic nations which espouse dignity for its citizens.
But it is the world’s only opportunity.
It will be the first time in history when all eyes will be on China through extensive television coverage by dozens of networks.
If CBC and the others throw this opportunity away, we have failed.
Worse, we have endorsed China’s way of doing things.
The way I look at it, CBC has a huge responsibility to Canadians, to Chinese citizens, to humanity.
It must use our tax dollars to seek out the truth about China.
I will give it the benefit of the doubt that it will try.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.