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Organizers of Tiananmen protest accuse radio station of bowing to Beijing

A man blocks a column of army tanks on Changan Avenue east of Tiananmen Square in Beijing in this June 5, 1989 file photo. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the bloody June 4, 1989 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the square.

ARTHUR TSANG/REUTERS

A local Chinese-language radio station has rejected a paid ad for the annual June 4 march and candlelight vigil outside the Chinese consulate to remember the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, claiming demonstrations can turn violent.

The decision has disturbed event organizers, who fear the Chinese government may be taking over the station through the back door.

Organizers noted the increasing presence of programming from China on radio station AM1320, which refused to run the ad.

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"We think this is self-censorship by the station," said Henry Chau of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement. "June 4 is taboo in China. … Any mention of the incident is banned from Chinese public space."

Human-rights activists demonstrated outside the radio station last week to protest against the ban and are now planning to complain to the CRTC over the matter.

Mr. Chau said the station had run similar ads in the past for their June 4 vigil without a problem.

But owner James Ho said the radio station now has a policy against promotion of any public gathering that takes the form of a demonstration.

"During the past couple of years, we have seen and experienced how alarming demonstrations can become," he said.

Mr. Ho pointed to the Stanley Cup riot in downtown Vancouver and the current student protests in Quebec. "There's no saying what demonstrations can turn out to be. ... We have to be responsible."

The evening vigil outside the Chinese consulate is held every year on June 4 to mourn victims of the violent assault by the People's Liberation Army against unarmed protesters at Tiananmen Square. It begins with a police-led march up Granville Street and concludes with demonstrators holding candles parading in front of the consulate.

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Normally, between 200 and 300 people take part.

The protests have never been anything but peaceful, said Mr. Chau.

But Mr. Ho said all demonstrations begin peacefully. "No demonstration starts with violence. … There's no saying what they can turn out to be."

Mr. Ho added he resents the accusation that he is a puppet of the Chinese government.

"It is very disturbing to me ... and insulting. We view ourselves as the voice of the Chinese community, and we are proud of that. They know us," the station owner said.

He said he's never known a radio station to advertise and promote a public demonstration.

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However, Travena Lee, news director of Chinese-language Fairchild Radio in Vancouver, said her station has always run the June 4 ads from Mr. Chau's group, and did so again this year.

"We don't have a problem with the ads at all," Ms. Lee said.

Mr. Ho insisted his station didn't actually reject the ad. They asked for the wording to be modified, and Mr. Chau declined.

He noted the station's reporters always cover the vigil and will be there Monday evening.

"They do very balanced reporting," agreed Mr. Chau. "We hope the refusal to broadcast our ad is not an extension of the repressive policy of the Chinese government.

"It is our great concern that some foreign government is taking over a Canadian public broadcasting channel through the back door," he said.

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