Tuesday, November 01, 2005

TVBS Controversy

The TVBS controversy continues. ESWN had a great post on it the other day with a nice little chronology, and has added short blurb on Norman Leung, who was chairman of the Hong Kong Broadcasting Authority (go here). Consistent with his usual anti-Taiwan slant, ESWN omitted this and other information in his previous post on the topic. The Taipei Times covers the government's claims on TVBS' foreign ownership. ESWN writes:

The timeline intertwines the KRTC scandal with the government investigation of TVBS. It is hard not to see the events as being related. (UDN via Yahoo! News) Ever since the cable television license renewals in which one station was rejected (see Freedom of Press in Taiwan), it has been said that there is an atmosphere of intimation of the media by the government. A political science scholar has proposed: "怕者恆怕,不怕者恆不怕." Those media that are afraid will be more afraid and continue to maintain their silence.

The idea that Taiwan's media are afraid or maintaining silence is laughable. This is the usual paranoia from mainlanders about how Chen Shui-bian is an authoritarian and there is no freedom in Taiwan. ESWN hiliariously parrots this nonsense:

And this is an Internet world: if no media in Taiwan will report on the story, then "Deep Throat" can always speak to the media outside of Taiwan while shining the light on the new White Terror regime inside Taiwan.

The "new white terror regime..." [HOWLS WITH LAUGHTER]. Anyone who thinks the inept Pasuya Yao, head of the GIO, is the hand of a new White Terror regime is, frankly speaking, on crack. Some of us around here are old enough to have been on a White Terror blacklist, and anyone who opens a book can read about, say, the 1979 Kaohsiung Incident, in which 50 prominent democracy supporters were arrested and jailed and 15 magazines closed. Many people have forgotten that the KMT continued its ways even after the lifting of martial law, with Chiang Ching-kuo simply replacing martial law with a national security law under which jailing of democracy supporters and closing of anti-KMT media continued into the 1990s, with several suspicious deaths. Only the rise of real democracy parties in the 1990s put a stop to that. No, what's happening isn't some new White Terror.

Instead, the TVBS issue highlights three interrelated problems in Taiwan society. First, the media simply make up things, and do not bother with verification of claims. The result is that Taiwanese live in a society where claims are constantly asserted but not supported by evidence. I have already blogged on the evidence-free writing that is so common in Taiwan's "better" media. This habit of visceral response without supporting evidence is normal and widespread in society.

This leads to the second problem: in the case of the media, how should their penchant for spreading unverified nonsense be handled? Sun Bin noted in the comments to the previous post on TVBS that individuals harmed could sue papers, and this would certainly be useful for at least some individuals. But the media here not only spreads nonsense, but is also frequently used to carry out personal and political vendettas. In a recent case at a university I know, one professor used a contact in the newspaper to have a completely false story printed about another professor he disliked. From the personal up to the political, this lack of ethics is pervasive in the Taiwan media.

There are two problems with Sun Bin's suggestion that the media should be sued. First, ethics should not have to be an issue of "Be ethical or I'll sue you." The obvious corollary to that is "Since you didn't sue me I must be doing OK" which is utter nonsense, and the even worse corollary that "Ethics are not necessary unless enforced by lawsuit." Secondly, regardless of the actual response, anti-Taiwan types like ESWN will attack the government for being a White Terror regime. Had the DPP or GIO sued TVBS years ago, the anti-Taiwan crowd would have gone baying on about "the new White Terror" and "Chen's authoritarianism" and press freedom. This reflexive lack of good faith, especially on the anti-Taiwan side, means that there is no action that the DPP could take that the anti-Taiwan forces would approve of, except collective suicide. The mere existence of a democracy and independence movement in Taiwan is intolerable to them.

Of course, it would be nice if the move against TVBS weren't so obviously a response to its attacks on the DPP. It would nice if the government had moved against these habits 5 years ago instead of now, and could position this response to TVBS in the framework of a larger movement to create a responsible and vibrant media through reform of journalism education and the closing down of media outlets whose ethics are questionable or which are owned and operated by foreigners, especially by foreigners from countries that are out to destroy Taiwan's democracy. But instead it is hard for anyone to look at this and miss the fact that the GIO's response is essentially a reprisal.

This brings us to the third problem, the "culture of winking" (for lack of a better term) and the "culture of reprisal." The government got itself in trouble over the all-too-common practice of not doing anything Until Something Happens. The first time TVBS promulgated nonsense it should have had the living daylights sued out of it, and again and again until it stopped. The moment the government became aware that TVBS was in violation of the media ownership laws, the government should have pounced on it. But instead, the government winked at the violations and let things roll on. In Chinese culture, law has little normative force. Instead, it is simply an additional club to be used when one is engaging in the common practice of reprisals against one's enemies. Only then do violations suddenly become violations. Prior to that, they are ignored. The result is an Israeli vs. Palestinian cycle of mutual terrorism: the GIO moves against TV stations that violate the law, the media responds by attacking Yao, Yao responds by moving to close one of the TV stations, and so on, a cycle that has no identifiable beginning and no real end.

In the end, the current media crisis is not a White Terror problem, but a problem created by numerous interwining aspects of local culture. When TVBS promulgates bullshit, and Pasuya Yao moves against it, both parties are acting out "cultural" programming, not engaging in some tilt of authoritarianism vs. freedom of the press. The sad part is that the real loser here is not TVBS, but Taiwan's civil society, still in its infancy, and likely to be choked in its cradle if things do not change.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yep. Rule by innuendo and fear. Reprisal as ther mark of justice. Force of logic determined by something called 'credibility.' The stage is set for the return of hard-core totalitarianism.

Budding Sinologist said...

Michael, you seem to have invented a new approach to media regulation. It could be called the Broken Windows approach to the media. I agree completely and think this radical idea (enforcing the regulations) just could work. We should think of a catchy motto. How's this: If we cease to enforce the standard, we create another one.

Sun Bin said...

As a lawyer, CSB know what direct ownership is.

After Lee Yuan-che publicly disagree with Pasuya Yell. Chen Shui Bian finally said, "I will not shut down any TV station within my tenure."

I told you. There is no legal basis.

Sun Bin said...

1. ethic and legality should be separated. ethic is subjective, it is very dangerous to enforce legal punishment on something subjective.

what i said was "be legal or i will sue you". I never mentioned ethic in my precious comment.

if the current law is inadequate, you can amend it to support your 'ethic'

2. please drop the label "anti-taiwan'. you can call ESWN anti-DPP if you feel so, not anti-Taiwan.

as for me, you know I do not always oppose CSB. despite the recent scandal, i still think DPP is cleaner than KMT in the past.
in fact, I believe CSB is listening to Lee Yuan Che and finally doing the right thing.

LYC is the conscience of Taiwan. I said this knowing he supported CSB in the past.

3. i maintain, any censorship or persecution against TVBS is plain WRONG. but it is going to hurt DPP more than anyone else. (apple daily said 95% in survey support TVBS in this issue. Apple Daily is quite neutral)
I totally disagree with your proposal toward media censorship and I am very disappointed that such view comes from an American, who had enjoyed democracy and freedom of speech back "home".

Just imagine if KMT is in power and apply your approach to media regulation. They could push it further than DPP.

Michael Turton said...

What proposal for media censorship have I made? I haven't supported the shut-down of TVBS, Sun. I think it is a bad idea for all the things we have mentioned plus more. I was simply arguing that it is rather simplistic to say that this is an issue of authoritarianism vs. free press. It's not. It's "cultural," and it is about the urge to anarchy vs. the urge to control, that tension that forms the poles between which Chinese society navigates.

But what is the government to do? The problem is the lack of journalistic ethics, and the lack of good-faith commitment to facticity that is the hallmark of good journalism (this has deeper roots in the educational system but that is a topic for another day). You don't sue someone for being illegal -- you have them arrested. You do sue someone for ethical breaches, which is why I went to that from your remark about lawsuits. It isn't illegal to make things up, usually. But it is a breach of ethics that may be actionable.

Also, great joke about Apple Daily being nuetral. I laughed my ass off.

I'm not going to drop the anti-Taiwan comments until I see some stuff on ESWN's website that provides a more balanced view of things. At the moment, ESWN supplies a steady flow of material whose one common theme is that it makes Taiwan look bad. Lots of us Taiwan bloggers have noticed ESWN's attitude: ESWN is a fantastic blog with a tremendous blind spot. You know as well as I do that had the GIO gone after TVBS and other stations for making things up two years ago, ESWN would have been all over the GIO for being 'authoritarian.' Heck, look at ESWN's linking this to the White Terror! Puh-lease! Is that the least bit rational? There's no way to win with that crowd, Sun Bin. All you can do is hope their attitude will develop some balance, and in the meantime I will continue to call'em as I see'em.

Michael

Michael Turton said...

LOL to Budding Sinologist. I never thought of it as a Broken Windows strategy.

Michael

Sun Bin said...

think about any enforcement of 'ethic' that does not turn into censorship. let's forget TVBS for the moment, let's use, eg porn, gay porn as context, for example.

'ethic' just does not work. rule of law should be above 'ethic'.

---

i don't know. i am just put off by 'cultural' as an argument? remind me of "Asian culture is not suitable for democracy"

---
white terror: something happened in HK a couple years ago. ads were pulled out from apple daily. a radio station was threatened with not renewing license. same shit.
we call it white terror.

the radio station's license got renewed. but it scared the shit out of them. they would think twice b4 criticzing the govt again. this is censorship.

if that is the taiwan you want. ok. as I said, it is not always your DPP to interpret the law.

---
about apple daily. yes, they first employed wai-shen-writers. but do you know they dropped almost all the mainland news (used to have 3 pages, noe only 1)? and they are vehemently anti-CCP.
sure not neutral. but the most neutral i could find in taiwan.

well, from TSU's POV, even DPP is pan-blue.

Michael Turton said...

think about any enforcement of 'ethic' that does not turn into censorship. let's forget TVBS for the moment, let's use, eg porn, gay porn as context, for example.

We're not arguing, Sun Bin, we're agreeing! Ethics cannot be enforced by decree, but they can be trained into a person or an organization if violations are sternly met by appropriate remedies -- lawsuits rather than arrests.

i don't know. i am just put off by 'cultural' as an argument? remind me of "Asian culture is not suitable for democracy"

I don't mean to argue that Asian culture isn't suitable for democracy, and I hope I don't remind you of that! I just wanted to move beyond the facile two legs good/four legs bad style of analysis that is being bandied about the blogs. Things are more complex than that. The lack of civic society and its attendent assumptions and behaviors is starkly evident on both sides here.

if that is the taiwan you want. ok. as I said, it is not always your DPP to interpret the law.

I think you've decided to go off on your own tangent here, Sun Bin, and imagine things I've never said. Please show me exactly where I said I approved of the attack on TVBS. Attempting to understand why things happen is not the same as approving of them.

about apple daily. yes, they first employed wai-shen-writers. but do you know they dropped almost all the mainland news (used to have 3 pages, noe only 1)? and they are vehemently anti-CCP.

They're not a serious newpaper, and that's by the low standards of the media here. Apple is simply one more corrosive eroding away whatever standards the media in Taiwan still have, a smear of dogshit across the local sidewalks. I wish it would pack up and go back to Hong Kong.

Michael

Anonymous said...

It is nice to see a foreigner actually getting the key issues right.
Perhaps actually being in Taiwan helps a lot.

For me it seems the real issue is practicality vs the law. A company with only 1 million NT assets owns more than half of TVBS? The math just doesn't add up. How many hoops did Murdoch jump through to get his Fox News Network running? Even USA have laws regulating foreign ownership of media.

Some pan-blue legislators and their equally idiotic supporters came up with an even more absurd defense by throwing the constituion into question. Yeah, technically since Hong Kong and Mainland China are both territories of ROC, so they cannot be considered foreigners. Wow! Perhaps they can invite their PLA brothers to come over and take Chen's life. Is that the next step?

The freedom of press issue is merely a facade. Taiwan does not suffer from the lack of freedom of press, it is more likely the other way around. The press can say whatever they want without even checking the authenticity. Lee, the manager of TVBS, even openly said as long as 1/10 of any thing exposed by Chui and Chang is true, than that is enough. Does that imply they think they could get away with reporting false scandals 9 out of 10 times? What happened to his professional journalist ethics?