Lost in Translation : Chinese papers nicking English-language work

crikeyLOGOAustralia’s Chinese-language Sing Tao newspaper may routinely steal articles from the internet and from Australian newspapers and magazines, yet it has been congratulated by the NSW Parliament and this year it won an industry award. Sing Tao Editor Vincent Ho recently admitted to the theft of a 2,500 word feature article I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph. “It will (sic) be a shame if Australians who read only Chinese would not be able to enjoy this feature,” he explained, in response to my inquiries. “We have Taken the liberty of writing a Chinese write-up basing on your article (sic).”

Ho then refused to discuss the extent of his paper’s copyright looting, a practice that is difficult to monitor and has been hard to prove.

Raymond Chow, publisher and editor of the Christian Chinese-language weekly magazine Sameway, says copyright theft is routine practice for Australia’s Chinese-language newspapers. The Chinese newspapers here all do the same thing,” he said. “They take things from the internet and from Australian publications.”

Mr Chow says that often the translation can be very poor, the product of either “machine” translation (such as the automatic translation aids provided by Google), or work by poorly paid and relatively inexpert translators. The meaning of the articles is often distorted.

As a publisher who pays journalists to produce articles, he has been frustrated by this seemingly widespread practice of lifting articles from the internet and from Australian publications. “We have complained about this, about all the papers,” he says. “We are in a disadvantaged position. We need to employ people to write our articles. We complained to the ad agencies. We complained to the Press Council. We raised the alarm.”

Mr Chow provided a small selection of examples of allegedly blatant pilfering in Chinese-language newspapers, which included pieces originally published in the Herald-Sun, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and the Cairns Post. None of the Chinese-language newspapers credited a source.

It is hard to know whether Australia’s major news organisations are actively pursuing this copyright theft by Chinese-language newspapers. A Fairfax spokesman declined to comment. A News Ltd spokesman said News was “actively working” on copyright protection, but he declined to say whether that included legal action. “We do not condone plagiarism and have long advocated strengthening copyright law,” he said.

A former Australian news editor says he was often infuriated by Sing Tao’s on-going looting of work that had been time-consuming and expensive for his organisation to produce. Company lawyers sent “cease and desist” letters to Sing Tao some years ago, he said. But the quiet stealing continued, and the theft was expensive to monitor on a regular basis and difficult to prove. Like so many other irritated editors, in the end he let it slide: it became too difficult and expensive to put an end to the hijacking.

In an era of concern regarding intellectual copyright, when most English-language publications in Australia are struggling to stay afloat, some industry observers were startled when Sing Tao was fulsomely praised by the NSW parliament last year.

NSW Labor parliamentarian Shaoquett Moselmane’s motion “congratulates … all at Sing Tao Daily for their commitment to keeping the Australian Chinese community informed, and wishes the newspaper all the best for the next 30 years of service”. Sing Tao was also recognised in this year’s Premier’s Multicultural Media Awards when Sing Tao’s chief executive officer Simon Ko won a Lifetime Contribution award.

A multimillion dollar global organisation based in Hong Kong, Sing Tao News Corporation has offices in four US cities, in Canada, the UK and Hong Kong, as well as in Melbourne and Sydney. According to its website, Sing Tao News Corporation “boasts a range of Chinese-language and English-language paid and free products targeting local as well as overseas readers”.

Ominously, the website notes that: “To fulfill the content needs of media operators and key industry players, primarily in the PRC (China), the Group sells and distributes repackaged information and content created by its different media businesses as well as third party content providers.”

It seems that the Sing Tao group has a double set of standards on copyright theft.

In 2008, a forum on the Asian Fanatics website (www.asianfanatics.net) published this note: “We’ve just received a letter from singtao (sic) requesting us not to post images and content from singtao daily. Content includes translations.Therefor, all existing news (including translations) and pics from these sites are deleted.”

The image used is a screen capture from the Sing Tao website. I felt sure Vincent wouldn’t mind.