A long-time editor has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against a Vancouver-based Chinese-language newspaper over his dismissal.
Lei Jin, editor-in-chief of Global Chinese Press, lost his job a week after his attempt to publish an obituary of China's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.
The death in July of Mr. Liu, a Chinese writer, thinker and well-known dissident, sparked widespread reporting outside mainland China. But Global Chinese Press withdrew the news of Mr. Liu's death at the last minute as it was ready for printing and days later dismissed Mr. Jin, who had written and decided to run the story.
The Globe and Mail obtained photos of the original version of the July 14 edition of Global Chinese Press, which had a short obituary for Mr. Liu in the section "Mainland News." The version of the paper that went to press, however, had the obit replaced by a business story.
"I was surprised the news [of Mr. Liu's death] was gone [from the paper]," Mr. Jin said. "That was the most important news in the Chinese community that day. It doesn't make sense that we don't publish it."
Si Xiaohong, owner and president of Global Chinese Press, said Mr. Jin's dismissal had nothing to do with the story about Mr. Liu.
"Out of consideration of our paper's staff deployment, [the company] made the decision to lay off Mr. Jin," she said in an e-mail.
Global Chinese Press is the same publication that last year cancelled Gao Bingchen's column after he criticized China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who berated a Canadian journalist for asking about China's human-rights record.
Mr. Gao said in an interview that Mr. Jin's dismissal and the cancellation of his own column is an indication of China's increasing influence over the overseas Chinese-language media. He accused Global Chinese Press of trying to show its "loyalty" to the Chinese government.
"Mainland China's influence on Chinese media is growing," Mr. Gao said. "The newspaper tried to declare its position through dealing with these issues that it has the same standard as the media organs of the Chinese Communist Party."
Guo Ding, a current-affairs commentator in the Chinese community in B.C., said he couldn't rule out the possibility that some Chinese media are self-censoring. But he said, ultimately, if news agencies outside China choose to pander to the sensitivities of the Chinese government, they will soon lose their influence and vitality.
"If [local Chinese media] only care about China's attitude and thoughts, and disconnect with local environment, how can they have influence?" Mr. Ding said.
He said he commented on the death of Mr. Liu, the Nobel laureate, both on TV and in newspapers. While he didn't receive any public pressure not to do this, his friends in private warned him against it.
Mr. Jin, the former editor-in-chief at Global Chinese Press, said that at a company meeting in July he was harshly criticized for making the decision to run the story of Mr. Liu's death without authorization and was accused of creating "negative energy."
But he said that as editor-in-chief of the paper, he had the final say and he did not receive any prior instruction from Ms. Si that the article should not appear.
Mr. Jin said that a week after the incident, Ms. Si dismissed him, saying she was not pleased with his work. He had worked at the paper since 2006, the longest of any of the full-time employees there.
Mr. Jin said though he and Ms. Si have different values, they never had direct conflicts. He believed his removal was linked to his decision to publish Mr. Liu's obituary.
"I believe there is a direct connection between these two issues," he stated.
But Ms. Si claimed that letting Mr. Jin go had nothing to do with the story of Mr. Liu. She said the decision was not sudden, but was made after long consideration.
She said all media have their own angles and ways of reporting and Global Chinese Press chose not to cover Mr. Liu's death.
Robyn Durling, communications director for the BC Human Rights Clinic, said there are two legal issues to be considered in Mr. Jin's case. One is whether or not Mr. Jin was fired because of his political beliefs. If so, it would be a breach of Mr. Jin's human rights.
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal must also consider whether Mr. Jin was doing something contrary to his employer's instructions. If that was the case, the newspaper has the right to decide what gets published and what's not, Mr. Durling said.
"It's between his beliefs themselves and then carrying out certain conduct that maybe in contravention of what the employer wants done. He doesn't get to impose his beliefs on the employer, so that's the argument."
Mr. Jin said media have the duty to inform readers of important news and, in Canada, freedom of the press should not be hampered.