The Epoch Times: History
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The Epoch Times is a multi-language newspaper founded in 2000 by John Tang and a group of Chinese Americans associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Though the newspaper is known for general interest topics with a focus on news about China and its human rights issues, it has become known for its support of U.S. President Donald Trump and favorable coverage of far-right politicians in Europe; a 2019 report showed it to be the second-largest funder of pro-Trump Facebook advertising after the Trump campaign. The newspaper is part of the Epoch Media Group, which also operates New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD). The group's news sites and YouTube channels are viewed by NBC News as spreading conspiracy theories such as QAnon and anti-vaccination propaganda. For its articles, the publication draws from a network within China, as well as staff living in the West. The Epoch Times has print editions in English, Chinese, and six other languages. Fifteen additional languages are published online only. The English edition of The Epoch Times is sold in broadsheet format Monday to Friday in New York City and Washington, D.C., and weekly across the United States and Canada. A typical issue includes news sections, including Nation, World, Business, Opinion, and Commentary, and lifestyle sections, including Travel, Life & Tradition, Mind & Body, Food, and Puzzles. The Epoch Times has been publishing in Chinese since May 2000. It is either sold or distributed free-of-charge in 35 countries, including various international regional editions. The Epoch Times websites are blocked in mainland China.

  • multi-language
  • d.c.
  • online

1. History

The Epoch Times was founded in 2000 by John Tang and other Chinese Americans associated with the spiritual practice Falun Gong.[1] The founders said they were responding to censorship inside China and a lack of international understanding about the Chinese government's repression of Falun Gong.[2][3] In May 2000, the paper was first published in the Chinese language in New York, with the web launch in August 2000.[4]

By 2003, The Epoch Times website and group of newspapers had grown into one of the largest Chinese-language news sites and newspaper groups outside China, with local editions in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and major Western European countries.[5] The first English edition launched online in 2003, followed by the New York print edition in 2004.[4]

In 2000, ten of The Epoch Times correspondents were imprisoned in China, but current staff of the Chinese-language edition work in Hong Kong.[6]

According to NBC News, "little is publicly known about the precise ownership, origins or influences of The Epoch Times," and it is loosely organized into several regional tax free non-profits, under the umbrella of the Epoch Media Group, together with New Tang Dynasty Television.[7] Its revenue in 2017 was United States dollar 8.1 million, and reported a spending of US$7.2 million.

2. Distribution

ÉpoqueTimes headquarters in Montreal's Chinatown in 2015. By Common Wolf from Montreal, Canada - ÉpoqueTimes, CC BY-SA 2.0,

As of February 2012, 67 The Epoch Times newspaper editions are published, in print in 11 languages, online in 21 languages.[8]

In April 2019, videos and ads from the Epoch Media Group including The Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty (NTD) totaled 3 billion views on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, according to the analytics company Tubular. That ranked it 11th among all video creators, and ahead of any other traditional news publisher, according to NBC News.[7]

3. Relationship to Falun Gong

Associated Press reporter Nahal Toosi wrote that it is "technically inaccurate" to say that the Falun Gong organization owns The Epoch Times, but many of the newspaper's staffers are Falun Gong practitioners. Toosi noted that "many observers" have said that Falun Gong uses the newspaper as part of a public relations campaign[9] and that it is connected with the group and carries sympathetic coverage of it.[9][10][11][12][13]

Canadian scholar Clement Tong echoed others[10][14][15][16][17] in writing that The Epoch Times "operates as a mouthpiece for" Falun Gong, despite the absence of an official statement of affiliation with the movement.[15] In 2008, David Ownby, director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the Université de Montréal and the author of Falun Gong and the Future of China, said the newspaper is set up by Falun Gong practitioners with their own money.[18] He describes The Epoch Times as wishing to be taken seriously as a global newspaper rather than being judged on the basis of its strong association with Falun Gong.[18][19] He wrote: "Epoch Times is a newspaper with a mission, that of reporting on issues bearing on human rights throughout the world, which allows for considerable focus on China and Falun Gong."[20]

In 2009, Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, appeared at the newspaper's office in New York City and called for the expansion of The Epoch Times to "become regular media." Former employees also noted the involvement of Falun Gong practitioners in the management and editorial process.[7]

While many individuals involved in the production of the newspaper practice Falun Gong, according to sociologist Zhao Yuezhi, it seeks to present itself as "public interest-oriented" and "independent of any political and business groups ... objectively and fairly reporting facts and truth."[5] Its reporting on Chinese affairs often highlights negative news about the Chinese government and coverage of Falun Gong in a sympathetic light. In this view, the paper articulates Falun Gong's views on a range of issues, and may be part of a de facto media alliance with democracy activists in exile.[21] English The Epoch Times chair Stephen Gregory said in 2007: "It's not a Falun Gong newspaper. Falun Gong is a question of an individual's belief. The paper's not owned by Falun Gong, it doesn't speak for Falun Gong, it doesn't represent Falun Gong. It does cover the persecution of Falun Gong in China."[9]

The Epoch Times runs frequent promotional stories about the Shen Yun dance troupe, which is affiliated with Falun Gong. A critical review of Shen Yun in The New Yorker called The Epoch Times "the world’s foremost purveyor of Shen Yun content."[22]

In 2019, an investigative report by NBC News suggested that The Epoch Times's political coverage may be affected by Falun Gong believers' anticipation of a judgment day in which communists are sent to hell and Falun Gong's allies are spared. Former Epoch Times' employees told NBC News that President Donald Trump is viewed as a key anti-communist ally,[7] allegedly "hastening judgement day and the delivery of communists to hell."[23]

4. Notable Coverage

Organ harvesting in China

In March 2006, The Epoch Times published the allegations of three Chinese individuals who said that thousands of Falun Gong practitioners had been killed to supply China's organ transplant industry,[24][25][26] including a doctor, who said there were 36 concentration camps all over China.[26] The Kilgour–Matas report[27] stated that "the source of 41,500 transplants for the six year period 2000 to 2005 is unexplained" and "we believe that there has been and continues today to be large scale organ seizures from unwilling Falun Gong practitioners".[27] Appendix 16 of the revised report refuted Harry Wu's negative comments.[27]

In 2008, two United Nations Special Rapporteurs reiterated their requests for "the Chinese government to fully explain the allegation of taking vital organs from Falun Gong practitioners and the source of organs for the sudden increase in organ transplants that has been going on in China since the year 2000".[28] The Chinese government has consistently denied the allegations. The Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the United States House of Representatives has adopted resolutions condemning alleged organ harvesting from Falun Gong prisoners of conscience.[29]

Other reports

During the 2009 New York City Comptroller elections, The Epoch Times alleged that Taiwan-born Democratic nominee John Liu is part of a "United Front" by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to infiltrate the United States and subvert its government, democracy, and human rights in general.[30] The newspaper alleged that "the CCP works tenaciously and systematically to place its people [...] in key positions in corporations, academia, and government in the United States and other countries."[31] The Epoch Times also published an 8-page "special edition", and also featured on its website a section focused on coverage of Liu's reported ties with CCP officials.[32]

During Hu Jintao's visit to Canada in June 2010, the Toronto Star noted that The Epoch Times had published several "hard-hitting" critical stories on Hu's visit, such as allegations of the local Chinese embassy's orchestration of welcome parades, as well as an alleged recording of a speech by the first secretary of education Liu Shaohua, in which Liu stated that embassy would provide accommodation and transport for over 3,000 participants in the welcome parade.[33]

Canadian media reported that the parliamentary press office made deliberate arrangements in relation to Hu's public appearances limiting The Epoch Times' access to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, even though the newspaper is an accredited member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.[33] The paper carried an exclusive interview with outspoken Canadian Member of Parliament Rob Anders, wherein Anders alleged that the Chinese government used gifts and business deals in attempts to influence Canadian political decisions.[34][35]

5. Editorial Stance

The editorial stance of The Epoch Times is generally considered anti-communist, specifically opposing the Communist Party of China.[14]

In recent years, the newspaper has also been noted for favorable coverage of the Trump administration, the German far right and the French far right.[7][36][37][38][39][40]

According to a report by NBC News, The Epoch Times "generally stayed out of U.S. politics" before 2016, "unless they dovetailed with Chinese interests." Ben Hurley, a former Epoch Times employee until 2013, told NBC News that the newspaper was critical toward abortion and LGBT, and that Falun Gong practitioners "saw communism everywhere" including in figures like Hillary Clinton and Kofi Annan who were considered sellouts, "but there was more room for disagreements in the early days." Since 2016, according to NBC News, The Epoch Times has promoted favorable coverage of Donald Trump's campaign and presidency, and emphasized issues such as Islamic terrorism and illegal immigration to the United States. It has also emphasized "what the publication claims is a labyrinthian, global conspiracy led by [Hillary] Clinton and former President Barack Obama to tear down Trump."[7]

The newspaper counters what it considers to be Chinese Communist Party propaganda through its own opinion pieces and reporting. The newspaper covers causes and groups opposed to the CCP, including Falun Gong, dissidents, activists, and supporters of the Tibetan government-in-exile. The paper also reports on Falun Gong-related news, including the group's attempt to sue former Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin under civil legislation for "genocide", not covered by most other overseas Chinese-language newspapers.[41]

The newspaper is also at odds with the Taiwanese-owned newspaper World Journal, accusing it of being a "megaphone for the evil Chinese Communist Party".[42][43]

The Epoch Times is known for alleging conspiracies against former Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin,[42] under whose administration the Falun Gong was prosecuted.

In 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that "three new U.S.-based, Chinese-language media outlets that provide provocative reporting about the Communist Party, government oppression and social unrest in China [namely The Epoch Times, Sound of Hope, and NTDTV] have ties to the Falun Gong spiritual movement." When interviewed, executives at each outlet claimed they did not represent the Falun Gong movement as a whole.[41]

The Epoch Times also runs mainstream newswire stories and in some places can resemble a community newspaper.[44] According to sociologist Zhao Yuezhi, "While mainstream newspaper typically treat Web versions as an extension of the already-existing print version, The Epoch Times website serves as the master for all its worldwide papers."[5]

In some cases The Epoch Times operates in a hostile overseas environment, in which "overseas Chinese media companies choosing to remain independent or publish non-approved content become the targets of an aggressive campaign of elimination or control." In one instance Chinese diplomatic officials made threats against media for reporting Falun Gong-related content; in other cases, advertisers have been regularly threatened not to support The Epoch Times in any way. Communist Party authorities have been accused of resorting to "militant methods" against the newspaper and its staff, including attacking staff and destroying computer equipment.[45]

The newspaper reported that in 2005 the Communist Party "exerted hard and soft pressure" on printing houses in Hong Kong, forcing the paper to stop printing, after it reported on Tibet, human rights, Falun Gong, and was the first media to break the story on SARS.[46] The newspaper was also briefly banned from Malaysia after coming under reported pressure by the Chinese Communist Party.[12]

In 2016, the newspaper was removed from the pharmacy of Australian National University, after the president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association confronted the pharmacist and threw out the papers. The incident drew national media coverage over questions of Chinese government sponsored overseas student organizations.[47][48]

In September 2017, The German edition of the newspaper, The Epoch Times Deutschland, which became Web-only in 2012, was accused by online magazine The China File of being aligned with the German far-right, and attractive to readers supportive of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the anti-immigrant group Pegida.[36] Stefanie Albrecht, an reporter for the German broadcaster RTL who spent several days inside the Berlin office of The Epoch Times while investigating the far right, said that The Epoch Times staffers she met had no journalistic training and didn’t check facts, trusting instead in the alternative sources they consulted.[40]

In France , The Epoch TImes gives "an unfettered platform to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the patriarch of the French far right, and his daughter, Marine, who leads the nationalist party her father founded," according to The New Republic.[40]

6. Trump Administration

According to BuzzFeed News, The Epoch Times is known as "one of the staunchest defenders of Donald Trump's presidency."[38] The paper has championed Trump's Spygate conspiracy theory in its news coverage and advertising, and the Epoch Media Group's Edge of Wonder videos on YouTube have spread the right-wing, pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory.[7]

The Edge of Wonder hosts, according to The Daily Dot, "embrace QAnon completely" even though "almost nothing QAnon has foretold has actually taken place."[49] A NBC News report found that the Edge of Wonder hosts have been creative director and chief photo editor at The Epoch Times, and the newspaper promoted Edge of Wonder videos in dozens of Facebook posts through 2019.[7] The hosts and the newspaper's publisher deny that they are currently affiliated.[7][50][51]

In a response to a BuzzFeed report about The Epoch Times' coverage of Trump, The Epoch Times editor-in-chief Jasper Fakkert wrote in a letter to readers: "We see the Trump administration's efforts to change socialist policies in America, as well as set policies to counter infiltration and subversion by China, as remarkable reversals from past policies, and sincere efforts that, if fully realized, will benefit America and the world as a whole."[38][39]

In April 2018, The Epoch Times publisher Stephen Gregory and editor-in-chief Jasper Fakkert reported a third-hand claim that Donald Trump reads The Epoch Times every day and "it's the one newspaper that he believes to be a truthful and correct paper."[38][52]

In September 2018, The Epoch Times photographer Samira Bouaou broke White House protocol and handed Trump a folder during an official event.[53]

Advertising controversies

During a six month period in 2019, The Epoch Times spent more than $1.5 million on about 11,000 Facebook ads that NBC News said were "pro-Trump advertisements". NBC said the amount spent was more than any group except the Trump campaign itself.[7][54] Political ad spending on Facebook in April 2019 through an account called "Coverage of the Trump Presidency by The Epoch Times" exceeded any politician's spending except Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.[55][56] Journalist Judd Legum wrote in May 2019 that The Epoch Times ads were "boosting Donald Trump and floating conspiracy theories about Joe Biden".[55][56]

In August 2019, Facebook banned The Epoch Times from advertising on its platform, after finding that the newspaper broke Facebook's political transparency rules by publishing pro-Trump subscription ads through sockpuppet pages such as “Honest Paper” and “Pure American Journalism."[23][57] A Facebook representative told NBC: "Over the past year we removed accounts associated with The Epoch Times for violating our ad policies, including trying to get around our review systems." [23]

The Epoch Times publisher, Stephen Gregory, wrote in response that the paper didn't intend to violate Facebook's rules. The video ads, he wrote, "are overtly Epoch Times advertisements for our subscriptions,” and "discuss The Epoch Times’ editorial and feature content and encourage people to subscribe to our print newspaper."[23] [58]

In October 2019, the fact-checking website Snopes reported that The Epoch Times is closely linked to a large network of Facebook pages and groups called The BL (The Beauty of Life) that shares pro-Trump views and conspiracy theories such as QAnon. The BL has spent at least $510,698 on Facebook advertising. Hundreds of the ads were removed for violations of Facebook's advertising rules. The BL network of pages has 28 million followers on Facebook in total, according to Snopes. The editor-in-chief of The BL recently worked as editor-in-chief of The Epoch Times, and several other BL employees are listed as current or former employees of The Epoch Times. The BL is registered in Middletown, New York, to an address that also is registered to Falun Gong's Sound of Hope Radio Network and is associated with the YouTube series Beyond Science, but Snopes found "the outlet as a whole is literally the English-language edition of Epoch Times Vietnam."[59][60] Snopes found thatThe BL uses more than 300 fake Facebook profiles based in Vietnam and other countries, using names, stock photos and celebrity photos in their profiles to emulate Americans, to administer more than 150 pro-Trump Facebook groups amplifying its content.[60][61]

An unnamed representative of The BL wrote to Snopes that “The BL has NO connection with The Epoch Times," and a "few of our staff has job experience … working in The Epoch Times, but now they are working full time in The BL.” The Epoch Times’ publisher, Stephan Gregory, said “The Epoch Times is not affiliated with the BL.” [59]

In December 2019, Facebook announced it removed a large network of accounts, pages, and groups linked to The BL and Epoch Media Group for coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign actor. The network had 55 million followers on Facebook and Instagram, and $9.5 million had been spent on Facebook ads through its accounts.[62]

On December 20, 2019, The New York Times reported, in "Facebook Discovers Fakes That Show Evolution of Disinformation", that Facebook had deleted "hundreds of accounts with ties to the Epoch Media Group, parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times" using fake profile photos that had been generated using artificial intelligence. The Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) director Graham Brookie stated that the coordinated network of fake accounts demonstrated "an eerie, tech-enabled future of disinformation".[63][64]

7. Editorials

Nine commentaries on the Communist Party

In November 2004, the Chinese version of The Epoch Times published a series of editorials titled "Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party"[65] (traditional Chinese: 九評共產黨; simplified Chinese: 九评共产党). The editorials detail what The Epoch Times characterizes as the CCP's violent political campaigns throughout its history, from its ascent to power under Mao Zedong to its present-day form. The CCP is criticized as an illegitimate institution that used underhanded tactics to gain power. The commentaries allege that the CCP "destroyed traditional Chinese culture" and call the CCP an "evil cult".[66] According to China scholar David Ownby, the Nine Commentaries are a "condemnation of communism and a direct indictment of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party's rule in China". While acknowledging the "unnecessary violence" the Chinese Communist Party has inflicted, Ownby finds that the lack of balance and nuance in tone and style makes the editorials resemble "anti-Communist propaganda written in Taiwan in the 1950s."[20]

The Nine Commentaries have been translated into more than 30 other languages[65] and released as a DVD.[67]

The Epoch Times website hosts a "CCP Renunciations" service, encouraging Chinese people to quit the CCP and its related organizations. [68] The Chinese edition of the newspaper publishes the number of people who it claims have quit.

8. Assessments

According to Ming Xia, political science professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, The Epoch Times represents part of Falun Gong's effort to expand to non-practitioners, and "is part of the Falun Gong strategy to embed itself into the large civil society for influence and legitimacy".[69] He described The Epoch Times staff as largely part-time and volunteer, and said they "do not follow the protocols professional journalists abide by."[70]

The Epoch Times has been criticized by some scholars for biases, particularly regarding the Chinese Communist Party and mainland China issues, as well as for being a "mouthpiece" of the Falun Gong movement.[10][11][12][13][14][16] James To, a New Zealand political scientist, described The Epoch Times as the "primary mouthpiece" of Falun Gong, writing that it "lacks credibility", despite the newspaper posing a "viable threat to the CCP" by publishing articles about the party's negative aspects.[71] In his book Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on China's Version of Twitter and Why, University of Toronto research fellow Jason Q. Ng referred to the paper's coverage of mainland China issues as "heavily biased against the Communist Party" and thus its reportage "should be viewed skeptically."[72]

Seth Hettna wrote in The New Republic that The Epoch Times "has built a global propaganda machine, similar to Russia’s Sputnik or RT, that pushes a mix of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that has won it far-right acolytes around the world."[40]

The paper has also been lauded by some political commentators and media experts. Ethan Gutmann of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neoconservative think tank, has characterized The Epoch Times as a leader in political analysis of the Chinese regime, writing: "With the "Chinese Regime in Crisis" series, Epoch Times has finally and indisputably arrived. Any China expert who wants to save face by pretending the paper doesn't exist can continue to do so—for a little while anyway—but they had better be reading it in secret."[73]

James Bettinger, a professor of Communications at Stanford University and the director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, said "Even if Epoch Times is not associated with Falun Gong, if they consistently write about Falun Gong in the same perspective, or if there are no articles examining Falun Gong, people would perceive it as being not credible."[74] Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley, said in 2005 that "It's hard to vouch for their quality because it's difficult to corroborate, but it's not something to be dismissed as pure propaganda."[75]

In his 2008 book on Falun Gong, David Ownby wrote that The Epoch Times articles are "well written and interesting, if occasionally idiosyncratic in their coverage."[20][76][77] According to Ownby, the newspaper has been praised and also criticized for a perceived bias against the CCP, and support of Falun Gong practitioners and other dissidents such as Tibetans, Taiwanese independence advocates, democracy activists, Uyghurs and others. The paper, therefore, is often assessed in light of its connection to Falun Gong, rather than a thorough analysis of its editorial content.[78]

Jiao Guobiao, a former Beijing University journalism professor who was dismissed after criticizing the Propaganda Department, proposed that even if The Epoch Times published only negative information highly critical of the CCP, the weight of their attacks could never begin to counterbalance the positive propaganda the party publishes about itself. In addressing media balance, Jiao noted that the Chinese public lacked negative, critical information regarding their country. As such, he noted for a need of media balance based on the principles of freedom, equality, and legality, and that media balance "is the result of the collective imbalances of all".[14]

In 2010, The Epoch Times successfully defended its reporting in the Canadian court system,[79][80] when a publisher it had reported on, Crescent Chau of Les Presses Chinoises, sued for libel.[81] The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that The Epoch Times article expressed "legitimate concerns and constitute an opinion which is drawn from a factual premise."[79] In examining the case, John Gordon Miller, a Canadian journalist and media professor, noted that articles in question "appear to be thoroughly and professionally reported".[81][82]

Hayes Brown of Buzzfeed News called The Epoch Times "one of the staunchest defenders of Donald Trump's presidency."[38]

The web-only, German edition of the paper, Epoch Times Deutschland, has been criticized by media analysts[83] for its favorable coverage of far right populist groups such as the Alternative for Germany and Pegida, both of which proclaim anti-immigrant views, and promotion of skepticism towards mainstream German media and politicians.[36] A German media report described the outlet, along with Sputnik News and Kopp Report, as a "favorite" of Pegida supporters, and found that its articles critical of immigration have been shared almost daily.[37]

A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank, said the German edition of The Epoch Times "primarily runs anti-West, anti-American and pro-Kremlin content – a high proportion of this content is based on unverified information."[40][84]

9. Awards

  • 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal — Canadian publisher Cindy Gu of The Epoch Times was one of about 60,000 recipients awarded this commemorative medal, which honors "significant contributions and achievements by Canadians."[85][86] She was nominated for the medal by the Canadian Centre for Abuse Awareness for raising awareness of human rights abuses in China and the organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners.[87]
  • 2012 National Ethnic Press and Media Council Award —The Chinese edition of The Epoch Times was one of nine newspapers given an award for "excellence in editorial/free expression, best concept and visual presentation."[88][89]
  • 2012 New York Press Association Award — The Epoch Times won first place in the category "Best Special Section — Advertising, Division 2" for a special section produced for Asia Week New York in March 2012. "A great special section has five strong components: a great cover, appealing design, good art, strong content, and well-designed complementary advertising. This section has all five", said the NYPA judges. "In all, this is one of the nicest sections I have ever seen produced by a newspaper."[90]
  • 2012 Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi Award — The Epoch Times China reporter Matthew Robertson won this award in the category of Non-Deadline Reporting in newspapers with a circulation of less than 50,000 per day, for a series of articles he wrote on forced, live organ harvesting in China.[91]
  • 2013 Newswomen's Club Award — The Epoch Times New York reporter Genevieve Belmaker won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen's Club of New York for reporting on the effects of Hurricane Sandy, in the category of newspapers with a circulation of less than 100,000 per day.[92]

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  82. Notably such media analysts include Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of Foreign Policy magazine and Stefan Winterbauer of Germany's Meedia.
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