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Editor Dismissed Over Pro-Beijing Edits, Say Sources

April 11, 2009

By Jason Loftus
The Epoch Times
April 9, 2009

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
publisher 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.

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