Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Growing Problem of Self-Censorship

Welcome to tomorrow: China's real soft power is its ability to get potential critics in the West to self censor, as an essay in the New York Times describes. We have the same problem here in Taiwan, thanks to a recent law. The Taipei Times reported today:
As an example, he said the enactment of the Civil Service Administrative Neutrality Act (公務人員行政中立法) prohibits officials, including research fellows in public academic institutions, from ­engaging in politics, supporting or opposing political parties, political organizations or candidates for public office.

The act not only deprives civil servants of their basic rights but also restricts academic freedom, Hsu said, adding that the legislation had a “chilling effect.”

“[I know that] some research fellows have worried that they might be in violation of the act if they publish articles that are critical of the government’s environmental policies,” Hsu said.
This is also true of the ECFA debate -- few academic voices have weighed in on the anti-side, except for individuals in think tanks outside the government system, and retired academics like Kenneth Lin.

Politics aside, one powerful reason that academic voices are silenced is the amazing pressure to publish -- to be in a Taiwan university department is to be in a bathysphere at 5,000 fathoms. The system is such that publications outside one's specialty in newspapers or magazines count for little -- never mind the potential political retaliation they might invite. This pressure to publish is merely the upscaled version of the pressure to do homework students in the K-12 system feel, and has the same effects: one of its political functions is to curb the ability of students to participate in politics, or even develop political leanings, by loading up their time with homework.
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1 comment:

D said...

" an essay in the New York Times describes"

I hope a lot of people read this essay, which exposes a genuine problem that more people (at least in my group of people) should be concerned about.

It shows how Taiwan's political predicament is an acute and emblematic version of a much larger problem, so awareness of this issue should be good for Taiwan, too.