Daniel Friesen said he was alarmed by what his Saturday copy of the Toronto Star had tucked inside it: a copy of the China Daily, an English-language newspaper owned by the Chinese Communist Party.
The China Daily is owned and controlled by China’s ruling regime and among its responsibilities is advancing the party’s viewpoints on everything from Tibet to democracy.
Those viewpoints tend to justify communist authoritarian rule and paint persecuted groups like Tibetans and Uyghurs as violently opposed to the caring rule of the Party and its efforts to help all Chinese.
Friesen said he was surprised to see a Chinese communist newspaper on his doorstep in Canada.
“I thought, what is going on here? These guys are reaching into my house. I wondered why the Star was affiliating itself with a communist paper.”
Every week, around 10,000 subscribers to the Toronto Star get a copy of the China Daily, said Bob Hepburn, communications director for Torstar Printing Group.
“They signed a contract with us for us to print them and distribute them,” explained Hepburn.
Torstar, the Toronto Star’s printing press, has nothing to do with the content, he said, and the China Daily selects where the papers are distributed.
“It is strictly a printing and distribution agreement,” said Hepburn.
The arrangement started in January and has continued since. Hepburn directed specific questions to the China Daily itself and answered most others with assertions that it is strictly a commercial relationship.
“We have nothing to do with their editorial content or production or anything like that, or deciding where the copies go,” he said.
When asked if they were aware the paper was owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Hepburn said, “We have many printing contracts. For example, we print the National Post.”
Hepburn repeated that assertion when asked if it mattered the paper was owned by an authoritarian regime that suppresses basic freedoms. Another attempt to question how having a communist newspaper bundled with the Toronto Star could affect the Star’s reputation was met with the same response.
Hepburn noted that “some would say [the Post] has a different editorial slant than we do,” suggesting Torstar prints views different from its own.
The Epoch Times was the first newspaper to contact him about the arrangement, he said, adding that he was not aware of any complaints about the China Daily being bundled with the Toronto Star.
But those complaints will likely begin soon, according to leaders in the Canadian Tibetan and Uyghur communities. The China Daily’s work to advance the Chinese regime’s propaganda efforts is partly responsible for justifying violence against those groups and deceiving mainland Chinese about events in Tibet and Xinjiang said two men who lead efforts to raise those issues in Canada.
News of Chinese authorities opening fire on unarmed Tibetans trying to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 reveals that the regime is still very oppressive, said Urgyen Badheytsang, national director of Students for a Free Tibet Canada.
Details of the shooting didn’t reach the outside world until Tuesday due to strict information controls the regime exercises.
One monk was shot in the head and critically injured, with several others also injured, noted Badheytsang.
“To now hear that the Toronto Star has been spinning out the Chinese government propaganda, that is just ridiculous. As a Canadian and Tibetan, I am astounded our Canadian news sources could do something like this.”
Badheytsang said the Chinese regime consistently tries to undermine media around the world that challenge the human rights situation in China.
By printing, distributing, and bundling the China Daily with the Toronto Star, he said the owners of the Star and its printing press were spreading oppression and propaganda.
“It is very concerning.”
Kayum Masimov, president of the Uyghur Canadian Society, said he also found it disturbing that the China Daily was being bundled and delivered with the Toronto Star.
“I don’t think this is an appropriate thing to do. We should not forget that China is still communist and still terrorizes its citizens, [including] Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong. It is terrible,” he said.
“I think that it is damaging to [the Toronto’s Star’s] own reputation. They are just disseminating lies. We should stand against this.”
The China Daily’s arrival is part of a long-term soft-power offensive by the Chinese regime aimed at countering what it has described as an anti-China bias in the Western press.
Other state-owned media already present in Canada include Xinhua News, which garnered its own headlines when one of its reporters was romantically linked to Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. A more serious scandal arose when former Xinhua reporter Mark Bourrie detailed a series of assignments that appeared aimed at collecting intelligence on Canadian Chinese critical of the regime.
The Epoch Times learned in 2011 that the China Daily was shopping for a public relations firm to help with its Canadian launch.
The Daily touts itself as a Chinese perspective on major financial, political, and social issues, and its editorial slant reveals close adherence to the CCP line with frequent critiques on the West’s position on various issues.
While its North American English website often fails to load properly and many of its most controversial articles return a “failed to load” message in Chinese, searches on the China Daily’s English European site reveal some striking differences from Western journalism. Coverage of Tibet is almost exclusively about the Party’s efforts to improve quality of life there and how Tibetans were under the heavy oppression of the Dalai Lama and the theocracy before it was liberated by the CCP.
The most recent coverage touts infrastructure improvements in the capital city of Lhasa. Other news media, as well as Tibetan sources and Tibetan scholars, have described those infrastructure improvements as having included the destruction of traditional architectural heritage.
In the northeastern region of Xinjian, where Uyghur Muslims have faced widespread suppression similar to Tibetans, the China Daily focuses on the activities of alleged terrorists, saying they are no different from the Boston bombers and criticizing Western sources who note the ethnic aspect of the conflict there.
In both Tibet and Xinjiang, the Chinese regime has carried out a systematic effort to destroy traditional culture with often bloody results. An upcoming book by Ethan Gutmann details how the regime began its practice of harvesting organs from executed political prisoners with Uyghur dissidents.
Sing Tao Controversy
While the Toronto Star’s relationship with the China Daily is limited in scope, the Star has a majority stake in the Canadian edition of Sing Tao Daily.
Sing Tao is among major Chinese newspapers distributed in Canada that are strongly influenced, if not controlled, by the Chinese Communist Party.
A report by the Jamestown Foundation titled “How China’s Government is Attempting to Control Chinese Media in America,” detailed Sing Tao’s financial and political ties to the Chinese regime.
While Sing Tao is influenced by the Chinese regime, the China Daily is directly controlled and has content to that effect.
In the week that Friesen received the paper, there were two articles denouncing suggestions that recent violence in Xinjiang was anything but “gang members” who were “brainwashed by religious extremists” into attacking police stations and government buildings.
The paper criticizes Western reports that link tensions in the region to religious repression of efforts by the regime to suppress the Uyghur ethnicity.
A front page article quotes the regime’s top judge declaring that wrong verdicts must be corrected. The story goes on to quote him making such statements as the courts must be independent of governments and protect human rights.
But the reality in China is that the Chinese Communist Party has legal control over the courts and uses the country’s judicial and public security apparatus to suppress critics of the regime.
While the 2013 Human Rights Watch world report notes that the Chinese regime rejects judicial independence, the China Daily paints a very different picture.