TORONTO—Two decades ago, the ruling communist party in China began to quietly exert a powerful influence over Chinese-language media abroad, including here in North America.
It began in earnest during the lead up to the British handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. Thousands had left the bustling island city for Canada and other countries, seeking the surety of freedom they’d grown accustomed to under the British. At the same time, a wave of Chinese immigrants began to go abroad, and Beijing saw the risk posed when large numbers of overseas Chinese with connections to the mainland became exposed to press that might be less kind to the communist regime.
This made Hong Kong-based Chinese newspapers like Ming Pao and Sing Tao targets for influence, explained Mei Duzhe in a 2001 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation titled “How China’s Government Is Attempting to Control Chinese Media in America.”
A combination of political and financial favours had won over the largest newspapers and shifted their coverage in a distinctly pro-Beijing direction, Mei said. By 2001, the influence was pervasive, and Chinese newspapers abroad regularly parroted the communist party line on sensitive issues like democracy, Tibet, and the regime itself.
“The dominant Chinese media vehicle in America is the newspaper,” Mei wrote. “Four major Chinese newspapers are found in the U.S.—World Journal, Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao Daily News, and The China Press." (The first three are also distributed in Canada.)
“Of these four, three are either directly or indirectly controlled by the government of Mainland China, while the fourth (run out of Taiwan) has recently begun bowing to pressure from the Beijing government.”
It was in this environment of narrowing viewpoints that The Epoch Times came into being, first as a Chinese-language newspaper in the U.S., and then Canada. Founded by Chinese-Americans with a commitment to reporting important stories censored by the official and pro-Beijing press, the newspaper’s impact was quickly felt.
— Liberla MP Judy Sgro
In 2003, when the outbreak of the SARS virus began in China, The Epoch Times was first to break the story. It then stood alone as other Chinese newspapers repeated the regime’s official denials, even as the disease continued to spread. In the end, SARS infected people in 37 countries and killed 43 in Toronto.
By 2004, the Chinese Epoch Times had grown and was available on several continents, and nearly coast to coast in Canada. From there, the newspaper began to offer editions in other languages. The English edition in Canada you are reading now began in December 2004. A French Canadian edition was launched the following year.
Worldwide, The Epoch Times publishes in 12 languages in print (an additional five online) and in 33 countries. In the past year, our reporters around the globe have covered the riots in Greece, mudslides in Brazil, protests in Thailand, economic collapse in Ireland, and currently the earthquake in Japan. In Canada, we reported from Canada Hockey Place when Sidney Crosby scored his iconic gold-medal goal in overtime, and from inside the G20 in Toronto during last year’s high-profile summit.
Still, coverage of China remains a defining quality of the newspaper.
As crowds of Chinese were preparing to gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in June 2010 to cheer on visiting Chinese leader Hu Jintao, The Epoch Times obtained a recording taken inside the Chinese embassy that showed a high-ranking diplomat had ordered visiting Chinese students to come out in support of Hu, and “battle” with critics of the regime’s human rights record.
The Toronto Star called the reporting “hard hitting,” and Hu’s delegation demanded that our accredited reporter be excluded from the customary joint press conference. When the press gallery refused, the press conference was replaced with a photo-op.