Sunday, March 25, 2012

Media Freedom under China Influence

Cain Nunn from Global Post with an excellent piece about the way pro-Beijing media initiatives are affecting Taiwan's political climate...
The FAME report says that Chinese government agencies began placing advertorials in Taiwanese print media in 2008, but the number of “embedded” stories — which are published under the guise of objective journalism — more than doubled last year.

Citing national security concerns, Taiwan does not permit Chinese nationals to invest in the island’s media. However, critics claim that Beijing skirts these rules by pumping money through offshore dummy companies, and through Taiwanese businessmen with close ties to mainland authorities.

Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of the food manufacturer Want Want Group, has been singled out by media monitors as one such case. Earlier this month, Tsai came in second on Forbes’ richest Taiwanese list, with a fortune of $6.2 billion USD. He added $1 billion to his net wealth in 2011.

Tsai, who runs many food, real estate, hotel and health businesses in China, recently started purchasing media outlets in Taiwan that champion closer ties between the two sides. He echoes the Beijing line that the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 was overblown by Western media. To date, he has acquired three dailies, including the leading China Times, a TV station and a cable network and has plans to secure to a second cable operator.

Since Tsai purchased The China Times in 2008, a raft of senior journalists and editors have resigned over what they say is the increasing “Sinozation” of the paper.

“The owners influence their writers. If you analyze editorials in these papers then obviously there is a lot more pro-China talk and a lot less about China’s problems. It’s in the [news] pages as well, although it’s more subtle. But it’s there,” Chang said.

Freedom House, a US democracy advocate, has noticed the changes too.

In its global press freedom survey, Taiwan fell to 47th place in 2011 from 23rd in 2008. Back then, this diplomatically isolated island about 130 miles off China’s southern coast, was ranked as having the freest press in Asia. Freedom house said it was Asia’s eighth freest media environment in 2011.
The entire piece is excellent and well worth reading. It covers what some sharp observers have termed, not the Sinicization of Taiwan that so many in Taiwan fear, but its Hong Kong-ization. A commentator at a forum on China's influence over Taiwan's media a few days ago observed:
The current situation of Taiwanese media is similar to that of Hong Kong and Macau’s media before their handover to China in the late 1990s, when Beijing bribed, sweet-talked and threatened media in the two regions to promote its propaganda and “brainwash” people, Chen said.
Anyone familiar with the pernicious effects of media concentration and billionaire domination of the "free" press in the west will recognize this paragraph:
Over the years, ownership of much of Taiwan’s media has been dominated by business tycoons who have large investments in China, Lin said, citing the examples of Want Want Group chairman and chief executive Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), Fubon Financial chairman Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) and HTC Corp chairwoman Cher Wang (王雪紅).
This has a worrisome parallel in Hong Kong that bodes ill for Taiwan. Wiki notes that in Hong Kong growing self-censorship and muted criticism of China have followed the increasing links between business moguls and the CCP:
In 2011, Hong Kong Journalists Association Chairwoman Mak Yin-ting (Chinese: 麥燕庭) commented, "Now, more than half of Hong Kong media bosses or high media management have been absorbed by the Communist government... This will affect how news is handed down the hierarchy. They may consider whether reporting on some issues will affect the relationship between their bosses and the government."
It reads like the ending of Animal Farm.... Julian Baum reported last year in the CS Monitor on self-censorship in Taiwan's media:
“In the past, criticizing China was not something we avoided,” Yao said. “Now there are many things that can’t be said. So many Chinese delegations and VIPs are arriving, so many agreements have been signed, and certain topics are no longer discussed.”

Nearly all the Taiwanese media practice self-censorship in reporting about China, agrees Chuang Feng-chia, senior editor at the independent website and a past president of the Association of Taiwan Journalists.
As I noted at the time, outside the pan-Green papers, readers in Taiwan are either getting news about China from avowedly pro-China sources like the WantWant China Times, or from self-censored sources. Scary.
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1 comment:

Marc said...

Ever more the reason why we laoshi need to teach critical reading and thinking skills!