By Ng Weng Hoong, OnePacificNews, June 1, 2020, Monday

This two-part series examines the bias of the Canadian mainstream media in refusing to recognise the complaints of Chinese Canadians that Global News had published a false and misleading story with implications for the diaspora and the country’s race relations. Part 2 is here

Canada’s mainstream media have rallied around one of their own by ignoring or downplaying protests against the reporting of a high-profile journalist that every overseas Chinese, including those in Canada, is a “warrior” for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). (1)

On April 30, Global News’ investigative reporter Sam Cooper reported that the CCP’s influence arm, the United Front Work Department (UFWD), had organised and directed Chinese Canadians to buy up large quantities of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) in Canada for export to China.

The story, about a purportedly military-like operation by Beijing, implicates every Chinese Canadian as a potential CCP agent working to undermine Canada. Mr Cooper raised the fear level with his description of “the troubling methods and underground actors used by Beijing to quietly corner the world’s supply of PPE in a state-level operation.”

The story went viral and global as it coincided with similar reports that the CCP had used diaspora groups to mount an international operation to serve China. Some of this could have happened, possibly from mid-January, amid signs that China was about to be hit by a deadly new epidemic. Around that time, the unnamed disease caused by a coronavirus was not known yet to have spread to other countries.

The truth remains to be uncovered, but Mr Cooper’s fearmongering version will likely become the popular narrative, threatening the vast majority of Chinese Canadians who have no ties with the CCP.

Xiaobei Chen’s petition
Xiaobei Chen, a sociology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa and a member of a Chinese Canadian professors group, was among the first to recognise the incipient threat of the Global News story to the diaspora being cast as CCP tools. In the long history of Sinophobic racism in Canada, Mr Cooper’s story is a potentially pivotal moment for imputing that 1.7 million people of Chinese ethnicity are fifth columnists for a foreign state. It needs to be immediately called out and challenged. The suspicion of treason and disloyalty is extremely difficult to shake off once the stench of treachery sinks in.

Ms Chen launched a petition (2) the following day demanding that Global News immediately retract Mr Cooper’s story along with the echo piece by Abigail Bimman (3). The petition cited a key error by Global News in misrepresenting a Xinhua story to sell its incriminating erroneous storyline that “every overseas Chinese is a warrior”.

Crucially, she said Mr Cooper failed to mention that many Chinese individuals and groups had also acted on their own to supply friends and relatives in China. While the CCP might have activated some groups under their influence, the Global News story wrongly implied that the operation was undertaken entirely by ethnic Chinese “warriors” acting on Beijing’s orders.

Ms Chen also criticized Global News for failing to mention that many Chinese Canadians had used “their business connections to help (the) Canadian federal and provincial governments to secure reliable medical supplies.”

Having found each other on social media, the volunteers also raised funds and PPE donations for Canadian hospitals.

“These misleading reports…deepen racialized fears about Chinese Canadians (and other Chinese in Canada) and exacerbate the upsurge of anti-Chinese, anti-Asian racism,” she wrote.

“If Chinese Canadians are warriors, they are warriors against the coronavirus, standing side by side with other Canadians.”

The petition gathered over 8,000 signatures by the time it closed on May 9.

Predictably, Global News disregarded the petition and dismissed the protests represented by the signatories and Ms Chen’s professors group. She phoned and emailed several editors at the news organization but they were in no hurry to address her group’s concerns.

On May 29, she finally received a short statement from Chris Bassett, Global News’s national director, which said the publication does not “respond to online petitions.”

“We have carefully reviewed your concerns and while appreciating your perspective, stand by the work of our journalist,” he wrote in an email. It made no mention of Mr Cooper’s reporting errors as cited by Ms Chen.

Association calls out Global News for sowing “mistrust and hatred”
Formed on May 14, Maple Leafs Anti-Racism Action Association (MLARA) made a quick start by slamming Global News and Mr Cooper for sowing “mistrust and hatred” among Canadians.

In its first press release on May 27, the association criticised the April 30 story for its “biased and unbalanced portrayal of Chinese Canadians”.

While demanding retraction of the story’s ‘warrior’ segment, MLARA made clear that it is “not attacking the integrity of Mr Sam Cooper or calling him a racist”.

Rather, it said his report “has created an impression…that Chinese Canadians had, on the order of a foreign country, bought up critical medical supplies to the detriment of Canadians.”

The association is headed by Ivan Pak, the candidate for the right-wing People’s Party of Canada (PPC) who contested for the Richmond Central seat in last year’s Federal eleections.

While the Global News story targeted the People’s Republic of China, the CCP and the UFWD, MLARA said it had used “a provocative graphic” of a puppet master and an inaccurately translated headline to convey “a damaging portrayal of overseas Chinese and Canadians of Chinese descent.” (These points are covered in my first Open Letter (4) of May 5, 2020).

In a follow-up comment, Tung Chan, a veteran Vancouver city community leader who is advising MLARA, echoed Xiaobei Chen’s point that Mr Cooper had relied on an erroneous translation of the Xinhua “warrior” story.

Mr Chan found another crucial error. Global News (5) had reported the Xinhua story’s publication date as March 2, 2020 when it should have been February 3, 2020. (6)
Image 2: The Xinhua story’s publication date is February 3.

“A fatal careless mistake as far as I am concerned,” he said.

“I read the Xinhua report again and noticed that it was sourced from a local newspaper in Fuzhou.”

The report was published on February 2, filed by two local journalists from out of Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian province, located 9,600 km from Vancouver.

Mr Chan said he doubts the two journalists were in Canada around that time to witness UFWD actually conducting operations. He asked how much of their reporting, which conveyed dramatic logisitical activities, was authentic and how much was based on “hearsay”.

While some UFWD activities may well have happened, Mr Cooper admitted in his story that he could not independently verify the events recounted in the Xinhua piece. But that did not stop him from presenting an alarmist account of CCP activating diaspora “warriors” on the back of a wrongly translated, wrongly-dated Xinhua story that was, in turn, based on the reporting of local journalists in Fujian who may not have been in Canada at the time of the said UFWD operation.

Chinese media have been known to hype up the accomplishments of officials to portray the CCP as larger-than-life heroes during times of crisis. Indeed, the Xinhua story glorifying Beijing’s efforts to fight the pandemic and its ability to mobilise the diaspora to supply PPE to China would be in keeping with President Xi Jinping’s propaganda style. The timing and context of the hypernationalistic story were also crucial as its publication was likely designed to counter rising popular anger against Beijing’s poor handling of the pandemic from late January through February.

Despite the glaring errors and holes in Mr Copper’s reporting, Global News promoted it as an exclusive piece of investigation to alarm Canadians about the purported reach of Chinese government influence into Canada. The irony was lost on the Global News editors that their star reporter had used Xinhua’s chest-thumping propaganda intended for Chinese consumption to sell his alarmism to Canadians.

While street-smart Chinese readers recognized the warrior storyline as a CCP sales job, most Canadians were unlikely to have questioned the Global News story built on a mix of facts, fiction, and conjecture.

The irony was further lost on the Canadian media fraternity and politicians as they all reflexively rushed to defend one of their own. Never mind the facts, our boy needs defending from those seeking to suppress press freedom in Canada.

And who would that be? According to Mr Cooper’s defenders, it’s either thin-skinned politically-correct Chinese Canadians claiming victimhood at any perceived slight, or CCP operatives and sympathisers using the race card to cover up their tracks.

In part 2 of MEDIA FOCUS, I will look into the Canadian news coverage of Global News’s piece of Sinophobic reporting, and the media’s response to the protests against bad journalism.

Word count, minus headline and footnotes: 1,445


    April 30, 2020. United Front groups in Canada helped Beijing stockpile coronavirus safety supplies
    May 1,2020. To press Global News to retract two reports against Chinese Canadians and to apologize
    April 30, 2020. China asked Chinese nationals to help stockpile PPE
    May, 5 2020. Global News published anti-Chinese hate speech
    April 30, 2020. United Front groups in Canada helped Beijing stockpile coronavirus safety supplies
    February 3, 2020.榕籍海外乡亲凝聚起驰援战“疫”的磅礴力量