Editor Dismissed Over Pro-Beijing Edits, Say Sources

By Jason Loftus
Jason Loftus
Jason Loftus
April 9, 2009 Updated: October 1, 2015
The Torstar-owned Sing Tao newspaper fired managing editor Wilson Chan amid controversy over edits to a story on the Tibet turmoil last year that appeared to favour Beijing, sources have told The Epoch Times. (Photo by Shelbie Vermette)
The Torstar-owned Sing Tao newspaper fired managing editor Wilson Chan amid controversy over edits to a story on the Tibet turmoil last year that appeared to favour Beijing, sources have told The Epoch Times. (Photo by Shelbie Vermette)

TORONTO—The top editor of Toronto’s Sing Tao Daily was fired after he edited out criticisms of the Chinese regime from a front-page story published during the thick of the heavily repressed protests in Tibet last year, sources have told The Epoch Times.

Wilson Chan, then managing editor at the Chinese-language Sing Tao, was let go in the fall, according to the sources, which include two staff members at Sing Tao.

The story, which ran on April 13, 2008, was written by a reporter for the Toronto Star, an English-language newspaper owned by Torstar Corporation. Torstar also holds a majority share in the Canadian edition of Sing Tao an international Chinese-language newspaper headquartered in Hong Kong. The relationship gives Sing Tao rights to translate and publish stories from the Star.

The controversy underscores the challenges faced by Canadian media companies that purchase stakes in Chinese-language press in hopes of tapping into burgeoning immigrant markets.

Often, the Canadian media executives are unable to read the contents of the newspaper, and, as in the case of Sing Tao, much of the content is provided by Hong Kong-based parent companies that they have no control over, and which have in recent years been accused of tilting increasingly in favour of Beijing.

For Sing Tao’s parent company, that tilting has occurred over the last two decades. Longtime owner Sally Aw gained financial help from Beijing when in crisis in the late 1980s; a shift in the newspaper’s position followed.

It has continued under Charles Ho’s ownership of Sing Tao. Ho is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a select group of the communist party’s most loyal friends.

Torstar purchased its stake in the Canadian Sing Tao in 1998.

Two Newspapers: Two Different Stories

The decision to remove Chan is said to have come from Torstar, but The Epoch Times was unable to reach Carol Peddie, the Torstar VP who is CEO of Sing Tao, by press time. An assistant for Ms. Peddie explained that she was in meetings.

The Epoch Times did reach Sing Tao’s VP of Operations, Peter Li. When asked about the reports from staff that Mr. Chan had been fired over the controversial edits, Li said he could not comment as “it involves Mr. Chan’s personal information.”

The controversy first erupted after The Epoch Times reported major differences between Sing Tao’s translation of the Tibet story last April and the original English version that appeared in the Star on the same day.

The Star’s article was printed on the newspaper’s front page under the headline “Chinese Canadians Conflicted on Tibet.” It examined some Chinese Canadians’ dual feelings of national pride toward their homeland and concern over the Chinese regime’s human-rights abuses. 

But in Sing Tao’s version of the article, criticism of the Chinese regime had been removed. The words “so-called” were added in front of “human-rights violations” in a quote from one commentator. “Tibetans” became “Tibetan separatists” in another.

The original Star article also quoted observers as saying the Chinese regime was using the Tibet incident to fan nationalism and to conflate national pride with support for the communist party’s policies. These comments were removed.

Instead, Sing Tao’s version of the Star article blamed the West for “suppressing China” with media reports of the crackdown in Tibet. “Most Mainland Chinese immigrants stand on the side of the Chinese government, supporting the suppression of the rampant Tibet independence forces before the Beijing Summer Olympics,” read content added by Sing Tao to the translated story. 

Sing Tao’s headline ran across the width of its front page: “The West Attacks China With Tibet Issue, Inciting Chinese Patriotism Overseas.”

Initial Defense

The paper hit the streets the morning that pro-Beijing activists in Toronto were filling chartered buses destined for Ottawa for a large rally supporting the Chinese regime’s crackdown in Tibet.

For those concerned about the human-rights abuses, the perceived bias in Sing Tao’s coverage came at a sensitive time.

Mr. Chan initially defended the edits in an interview with The Epoch Times the week the controversial story appeared.  

“Different editors have different readings; if this is the way the editor reads into it, then it’s the way he reads into it,” Chan said of the drastically revised headline.

The criticisms of the Chinese regime that were cut were “not something new,” he said.  “We try to get close to the original meaning itself; we don’t try to distort the story,” he added.

But those explanations did not satisfy critics.

Mounting Criticism

Ten Chinese Canadians wrote a joint letter criticizing Sing Tao’s changes to the Star story. They then met with senior Sing Tao and Torstar executives.

Toronto lawyer Avvy Go was there.

“If you want to add editors’ comments, they should be clearly marked,” Go told The Epoch Times this week, explaining the concern of the group that met with Torstar. “And they should not make people feel that is how the Toronto Star’s original article was written. We feel how they did it was wrong.”

Go says she and others felt Sing Tao’s overall coverage of the protests leading up to the Olympics was not objective and “did not meet the professional standards of media.”

Then in August, the popular lifestyle magazine Toronto Life ran a story on the topic.

Toronto Life pointed to the controversial edits in the April 13, 2008 article and to edits made to other wire stories in Sing Tao that seemed to favour Beijing. The magazine concluded that Sing Tao was “pumping out communist propaganda.”

Canadian Sing Tao’s president, Louis Cheng, countered with a letter published in the September issue of Toronto Life.

Cheng conceded that there were problems with the April 13 story, but said the error did “not amount to censorship.” The mistakes were isolated and were a result of an error in “editing and translating” the story, he said.

Torstar Intervention

But according to a source close to the translation desk, translation was not the problem. The story was translated accurately and changes were made later by the editor.

One well-placed source said it was Chan himself who edited the story.

The source also said that was the cause for his dismissal in October.

As news has begun circulating beyond Sing Tao‘s walls, Chan’s departure has been welcomed by some Chinese Canadians concerned with what they say is a growing Pro-Beijing bias among many Chinese-language press. 

One community organizer said Chan’s dismissal could not have happened if Torstar had not purchased its stake in Sing Tao.

But the organizer was also not optimistic that the incident would prove to be more than symbolic accountability.

“With the majority of content coming directly from Hong Kong, even if the Canadian editorial department reports the news accurately, objectively, and fairly, the content from Hong Kong still cannot be controlled.”

Additional reporting by Anna Yang and Haixing Zhang.

Jason Loftus