University of Toronto Magazine has come under scrutiny after initially omitting an interview with U of T alum and pro-Hong Kong democracy advocate Jason Y. Ng from its Spring 2020 edition, which was published on April 1. Ng is an author and lawyer who received his Master’s of Business Administration and law degrees from U of T.
In the magazine’s Truth issue, Ng was supposed to be included alongside 11 other U of T alumni in an article titled “Taking a Stand,” highlighting each alum’s pursuit of truth. An excerpt from Ng’s interview in the magazine reads, “By tightly controlling the ‘truth,’ Chinese authorities hope to suppress the [Hong Kong] protest movement and stem its spread to the mainland.”
Following the omission, both in print and online, Ng publicly raised the question of the magazine’s possible censorship over his critical views toward mainland China. After Ng made these claims on his social media on April 23, the online version of the magazine’s article was updated to include the interview.
Calls for the autonomy and democracy of Hong Kong in relation to mainland China have been at the focal point of the Hong Kong protests, which have made their way to U of T in the past year.
Pandemic accounted for “number of changes,” says magazine
In an interview with The Varsity, Ng described how an editor at the University of Toronto Magazine reached out to Ng for an interview in relation to his work as the president of PEN Hong Kong, an organization that supports the right to free expression around the world. Ng is also a member of the Progressive Lawyers Group, which defends civil liberties in Hong Kong.
Ng recounted how the editor extensively collaborated with him on the interview excerpt that was to be included in the magazine. Weeks after the issue had already been published in April, the editor notified him that the interview was ultimately excluded — accounting for the decision as an “editorial mishap.” When Ng further inquired, the editor attributed the decision to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement to The Varsity, U of T Media Relations repeated the editor’s answer: “This issue of the magazine was being finalized as the university was dealing with a rapidly changing situation involving COVID-19, which led to a number of changes to the print edition.” This same comment has since been added below Ng’s interview in the article, as well as the statement that “This item appears only online.”
While U of T Media Relations’ response accounts for the absence of Ng’s piece in the magazine’s print edition, it did not address The Varsity’s inquiry as to why the piece was excluded from the online edition until late April.
Ng suggests possible censorship, given pro-Hong Kong democracy views
Ng drew considerable public attention in posting his story on Facebook and Twitter, where he suggested the possibility that the omission was due to his views on the Hong Kong-mainland China conflict. “It’s possible that the issue has suddenly run out of space. It’s also possible that it’s a case of self-censorship or the latest example of education institutions caving in to political pressure and avoiding stories that may antagonize China.”
In his interview with The Varsity, Ng further speculated that U of T alumni donors from mainland China would not welcome his views.
Though he feels that the explanations do not add up, Ng acknowledged that he cannot say for sure whether he was censored due to his political beliefs, and that there is likely no way to prove what really happened. “We may never find out the truth about the ‘truth’ issue — the irony isn’t lost on me.”
U of T Media Relations did not respond The Varsity’s inquiry as to whether Ng’s public reaction to the omission led to the decision to ultimately include his piece in the magazine’s online edition.
Editor’s Note (May 18, 3:32 pm): This article’s description of University of Toronto Magazine‘s notice to Ng regarding the initial omission of his interview has been updated for clarity, after The Varsity was able to confirm Ng’s communications with the magazine.