Did Toronto Paper Kowtow With Tibet Story Edits?

April 17, 2008 9:25 am Last Updated: September 10, 2015 9:32 am
Sing Tao's front page on Sunday, April 13, 2008. The headline reads: "The West Attacks China With Tibet Issue, Inciting Chinese Patriotism Overseas."
Sing Tao’s front page on Sunday, April 13, 2008. The headline reads: “The West Attacks China With Tibet Issue, Inciting Chinese Patriotism Overseas.”

TORONTO–The Dalai Lama began his visit to the U.S. last week with an appeal to Chinese-language media overseas to report objectively on the turmoil in Tibet. In a Saturday meeting with Chinese press in Seattle, he called the accusations against him “fabrications” intended to “demonize” him and his people.

“I very much hoped to meet with overseas Chinese media because at this time we really need outside help to ease the situation,” he was quoted as saying.

The Dalai’s appeal may be founded in concerns over the slant taken by several major Chinese-language media outlets in North America, which have largely parroted the communist party’s line on Tibet.

Tibetans fear one-sided reporting is fueling Chinese resentment toward followers of the Dalai Lama.

Take for example, Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper in Canada owned by Torstar Corp., the publisher of Canada’s largest circulation English-language daily, The Toronto Star.

On Sunday, Sing Tao and Toronto Star each ran the same story at the top of their front page, an article by Toronto Star immigration and diversity reporter Nicholas Keung. Sing Tao labeled the article “Special from The Toronto Star, ” but it had some noticeable differences from Keung’s original as it appeared in the Star.

The Star ran the story under the headline “Chinese Canadians Conflicted on Tibet.” The article probed the feelings some Chinese Canadians have in hoping for more human rights in their homeland while also feeling nationalist sentiment towards the upcoming Olympics and what they perceive as interference by Tibetan protesters.

The Star also quoted observers – including the publisher of this newspaper, Cindy Gu – who said the Chinese regime has intentionally confused national pride with support for the communist party its policies, such as its handling of Tibet.

Those comments were cut in the Sing Tao version, which used instead a page-width headline: “The West Attacks China With Tibet Issue, Inciting Chinese Patriotism Overseas.”

By the time Sing Tao’s editors were through with the story, criticism of the Chinese regime had been removed. There was no mention of an effort to distort facts to stir up nationalism. Instead, the story opened with two paragraphs apparently added by Sing Tao editors, berating Western news coverage and critics of the crackdown in Tibet.

“When China is suppressed by the West,” it read, “overseas Chinese generally feel outrage, and would not forget to step forward to defend China.” Sing Tao offered as examples of this “suppression,” Western media’s reports on the Tibet crackdown and the recent protests that met the Olympic Torch.

The article continued: “Most Mainland Chinese immigrants stand on the side of the Chinese government, supporting the suppression of the rampant Tibet independent forces before the Beijing summer Olympics.”

Even critics of Chinese human rights “think it is not necessary for the West to use Olympics to ‘bash’ China,” it said.

Sing Tao’s managing editor, Wilson Chan, defended the changes. Chan said the radical revision of the headline fell within an editor’s right to use whatever headline best suited the story.

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

He said criticism of the regime was cut because some of these comments were “not something new.” He also said these quotes appeared toward the bottom of the article, where editors frequently cut if a story runs too long.

But Sing Tao’s cuts included some mid-article paragraphs quoting a Chinese broadcaster on how Chinese nationalism had begun to erode the support for democracy in Hong Kong.

Sing Tao’s editors also broke the article into sections under four conspicuously pro-Beijing subheadings: “Harming Chinese People,” “China Is Like a Mother,” “Human Rights Will Gradually Improve,” and “Unfair to China.”

The editors appear to also have tampered with quotes.

Comparing the Sing Tao version with the original Toronto Star article, The Epoch Times noticed that Sing Tao appears to have added “so-called” in front of “human rights violations” in a quote from the radio broadcaster.

And “Tibetans” were changed to “Tibetan separatists” in the comments from a Markham investment advisor.

Chan denied there was any significant change to the radio broadcaster’s quote and he said all Chinese media use the phrase “Tibetan separatists,” but could not explain why it was added to the middle of a quote.

“We try to get close to the original meaning itself; we don’t try to distort the story,” he said.

Calls to Carol Peddie, vice-president of the Torstar venture company that oversees Sing Tao, were not returned.

Although in Canada Sing Tao is majority owned by Torstar, the newspaper maintains an editorial relationship with the parent Sing Tao company in Hong Kong, Sing Tao News Group.

The Chairman of Sing Tao News Group, Charles Ho, is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a distinction reserved for the Chinese Communist Party’s closest allies.

The Jamestown Foundation, a U.S.-based think-tank that monitors threats to democracy and freedom, analyzed Beijing’s influence on overseas Chinese media in 2001.

It found that the Sing Tao Daily and three other Chinese newspapers were under the direct influence of the Chinese communist government.

“As preparation for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, the Chinese government made vigorous attempts in the early 1990s to purchase several major media agencies in Hong Kong. This was done through the use of third-party merchants who have close business ties with China,” said the report.

In the case of Sing Tao, the regime provided financial help to then-owner Sally Aw Sian, who ran into a financial crisis in the late 1980s, Jamestown said. What followed was the paper’s transformation into a pro-communist paper that even saw a former editor of The People’s Daily (the Chinese regime’s official mouthpiece) take the helm.

According to political commentator Dr. Kengchit So, who emigrated from Hong Kong and now lives in Toronto, Sing Tao has changed to become one of the most pro-communist-party newspapers in Hong Kong.

So used to have a political column in global edition of Sing Tao in which he frequently criticized the Chinese government. The column was cut and So says an editor told him it was because then-owner Sally Aw Sian was preparing to meet with Chinese communist party chairman Jiang Zemin.

In fact, Sunday’s Sing Tao story was far from an isolated pro-Beijing article.

The newspaper’s website includes a special section devoted to the unfolding crises in Tibet. The tone in many of the stories is similar to that in state-run Chinese press: official Chinese sources are quoted prominently, few if any mentions are made of the Tibetan’s grievances against the Chinese regime, and reports of suffering of Han Chinese (the majority Chinese ethnicity) are frequent, along with quotes from reported victims denouncing the Tibetan protesters.

The nationalism theme is also common, for example, in this headline on March 28: “Emotional and Teary Attendees Sing Loudly ‘My Chinese Heart,’ as 2000 Chinese Join Anti-Tibetan Independence Rally.”

Another headline on April 7 read, “Dalai Lama’s List of Death Cases Said to Be Fabricated.”

And another on April 9: “Tibetan Government in Exile: Helpless to Restrain Violence.”

Cheuk Kwan, chair of the Toronto Association for democracy in China said the fact that Chinese media in Canada parrot the Chinese Communist Party’s line one of the main reasons Canada is seeing large demonstrations of Chinese people denouncing Western media’s coverage of Tibet.

Demonstrators in Toronto and Ottawa have also denounced the West’s push for improved human rights in China and a peaceful resolution to the unrest in Tibet, regarding such statements as support for Tibetan separatism.