Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Beeb 2000-6 Taiwan Timeline: Problems.

STOP_MA and Maddog have been pointing out lately that the BBC Taiwan timeline for 2000-6 has some pretty powerful pro-Blue biases (the Taiwan history Timeline isn't too bad). I thought I'd take a look.....(BBC timeline in bold).


Timeline: Taiwan
2000 March - Chen Shui-bian wins presidential elections, ending the Nationalist (Kuomintang) Party's 50-year monopoly of power.

"elections" is plural? There are lots of English errors in this timeline. Speculation on that follows.

2000 May - Chen Shui-bian says in his inaugural speech that he will not declare independence as long as China does not attack. He says he won't call for a referendum on independence, nor abolish Taipei's official blueprint for an eventual reunion with mainland China.

China responds by accusing him of insincerity, and by saying he had evaded the key question of whether he considered Taiwan part of China.

While Chen's remarks were important events, it is curious why the BBC considers the pro-forma Chinese response worthy of comment here. Is Chen's consideration of whether Taiwan is a part of China of the same level of importance as SARS or the Fourth Nuclear Plant issue? Nope! Consider all the other things that happened in 2000 -- for example, 2000 was the first year in many years that Taiwan experienced negative economic growth. Surely that is more important than the usual Chinese expansionist intrasigence. More to the point, consider also the context. The majority of this timeline discusses events relevant only to the sovereignty debate between China and Taiwan. Ask yourself whether a real Taiwan-centered timeline would focus so strongly on the sovereignty issue and on China's responses to Taiwan. Equally important was the positive US response -- but for some reason it isn't mentioned. Instead, the Chinese response is presented as an implicit negative critique of Chen Shui-bian.

2000 August - President Chen Shui-bian stops over briefly in the United States before starting a two-week tour of Central America and Africa. He gets no official welcome.

The trip may be worthy of mention, but note how the context is construed -- Chen gets "no official welcome" (in fact Clinton penned him up in a hotel). The BBC could have inserted "as per US policy, Chen gets no official welcome." Without that context, it is essentially an attack on Chen Shui-bian. This is reinforced because the BBC does not mention Chen's 2001 stopover in the US, where he was warmly welcomed by a planeload of Congressmen who had flown up to see him, and by the Mayor of New York, and on the way back, in Houston where he saw a baseball game and hung out with Tom Delay. Two other transits of US territory and their different results are also left out, meaning that the reader has no other context by which to judge the statement "he gets no official welcome." It is thus hard to argue that the purpose of that last comment is anything but to reflect negatively on Chen.

2000 October - Government halts work on the construction of a nuclear power plant, sparking a major political row. It argues that the facility - approved and started under the previous government - would not be a safe source of energy.

Again the context is gone -- the previous KMT government approved the nuclear power plant only after a decade of wrangling, a fact that could easily have been indicated in the timeline. Shutting it down had long been a goal of the democracy movement.. The facility is not only unsafe but also quite expensive, and many observers feel Taiwan would be better off investing in wind and other renewables. Note how "approved and started under the previous government" acts as a negative critique of the DPP's decision.

2000 October - Chang Chun-hsiung sworn in as prime minister. He replaces Tang Fei, from the main opposition Nationalist Party, who stepped down amid disputes with President Chen, over issues including the scrapping of the nuclear plant.

It would be nice if the Beeb referred to the Nationalist Party by its full name, the Chinese Nationalist Party. The BBC does not mention that it is normal for PMs to go in and out in Taiwan -- they are, after all, appointed by the President and are entirely his creature. Needless to say no other change of premier is mentioned.

2001 April - The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, meets President Chen during a visit which draws strong opposition from China.

Again, a reference to a China-centered sovereignty issue followed by "strong opposition from China." Such opposition, as every intelligent person knows, is pro forma. So many other things happened on the island in 2001. Why are none of them mentioned? This timeline is China-centered, not Taiwan-centered. For example, a timeline centered around Taiwan might have mentioned the opposition's first attempt to recall Chen over the nuclear plant issue.

2001 April - US says it will go ahead with sales of submarines, warships and anti-submarine aircraft, but not the requested naval combat radar system Aegis. China protests and President George W Bush pledges to help Taiwan should China invade.

This is a key event and deserves to be here. Note how the US appears in context with China only. It never appears by itself here as an important actor in Taiwan events in its own right. Note the awkardness of that phrasing "naval combat radar system" which almost suggests a translation from Chinese. The correct name is the Aegis Advanced Combat System.

2001 June - Taiwan test-fires Patriot anti-missile defence system bought from US, as China carries out military exercises simulating invasion of island.

China-centric again. This kind of thing happens every year. Many interesting things happened in Taiwan this year. Why are none of them here?

2001 November - Taipei lifts a 50-year ban on direct trade and investment with China.

Note the completely China-centric point of view -- the timeline needs only a few words to note that Taiwanese businessmen have already been flooding into China for a decade at this point to make the context clear. In other words, the lifting of the ban was a formality that recognized an already vibrant reality.

2001 December - Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party loses its parliamentary majority for the first time.

Important event - and yet note, instead of reporting a DPP victory, it reports a Nationalist loss. The term "DPP" does not appear in this timeline.

2002 January - Taiwan officially enters the World Trade Organisation, only a few weeks after China.

Why mention China here? After this the entire year of 2002 was skipped. Yet this year a quake knocked a crane off Taipei 101, killing several, the China Airlines flight to Hong Kong fell out of the sky near the Penghu, taking 225 with it, the First Lady had a highly successful trip to the US, there was a record drought, worst in almost two decades, and a major policy failure with the credit union reform that brought down then-Premier Yu. But mentioning those things would make the timeline Taiwan-centered instead of China-centered.....

2003 May - Dramatic rise in cases of the pneumonia-like Sars virus.

2003 July - Taiwan is the final country to be removed from the WHO's list of countries which were badly affected by the Sars virus.

Note how this apparently reflects negatively on Taiwan ("final country"). What if this had been contextualized by adding "after Canada." Note that there is no mention of Taiwan's attempts to enter the WHO, a situation that would automatically occur to anyone viewing SARS from the Taiwan point of view. In other words, while on one hand the timeline constantly presents Taiwan "provoking" China, on the other, it fails to mention any examples of China suppressing Taiwan's international status, an important experience from the Taiwan standpoint. This timeline is China-centric, not Taiwan-centered.

2003 November - Taiwan unveils the 508-metre Taipei 101 building, which it says is the world's tallest.

"...which it says.." Does the BBC mean that the claim that it is the world's tallest office building is disputed? Why not just say "currently the world's tallest office building."

2003 November - Parliament approves bill to allow referendum on declaring independence should China attack. Referendums on sovereignty and changing country's name are not sanctioned.

Again, after SARS and Taipei 101, we're back to the sovereignty issue.

2004 March - President Chen Shui-bian wins a second term by a slender margin. His win follows an apparent assassination attempt against him on the eve of elections.

An "apparent assassination attempt." I suppose those were "apparent" bullet holes in the jeep's window? Only the pro-China side believes that the assassination was fake and would refer to it as an "apparent" assassination attempt. There was an actual assassination attempt by a Blue supporter who was found by following the chain of evidence.

2004 November - Court rejects opposition challenge that President Chen Shui-bian won March's presidential election unfairly.

Why is this even here? Did nothing else happen in 2004 between March and November? The Court's rejection of the Blue fantasties was a foregone conclusion, since the Blues had no evidence for their outlandish claims. Why not mention the beef dispute with the US? But then...that has nothing to do with the legitimacy of the Chen presidency (a obsession of the Blues) or China.

2005 January - Aircraft chartered for the Lunar New Year holiday make the first direct flights between Taiwan and China since 1949.

Again, a sovereignty-related event. Acceptable because it is an important milestone.

2005 March - Taiwan condemns a new Chinese law giving Beijing the legal right to use force should Taipei declare formal independence.

Clearly biased -- no law can give Beijing a legal right to murder Taiwanese. I doubt that the BBC would argue that murder of dissidents in China was a "legal right" of the PRC since that government passed a law saying it could kill them. This is clearly tremendously biased. Not to mention ethically offensive.

2005 April - National Party (KMT) leader Lien Chan visits China for the first meeting between Nationalist and Communist Party leaders since 1949.

A milestone.

2005 June - Reform requiring future constitutional amendments to be put to a referendum arouses China's concern that it will be easier for activists to promote moves towards independence.

So many things happening in the first half of 2005. Yet the focus is on China's concern about a Taiwanese constitutional reform. Why not add a sentence that notes that the Constitution was never approved by the local public, or that it is unwieldy and has been amended more than a dozen times since the early 1990s to fit the new democratic society. Or anything at all about the context of constitutional change in Taiwan?

2005 July - National Party (KMT) elects mayor of Taipei Ma Ying Jeou as its new leader.

First, it's the Nationalist Party. Second, Chinese names are formally written out as with the given name capitalized and then in lowercase: Ma Ying-jeou. Third, where is the DPP? It has had several chairman during this period. The formation of the KMT splinter PFP in 2001, now an important factor in local politics, is also ignored in this timeline. In addition to not mentioning any of the leaders of the DPP, it also ignores the important local PFP politician James Soong. It is both KMT-centric and China-centric.

2005 December - Opposition KMT triumphs in municipal elections. The result is interpreted as a mid-term vote of no confidence in President Chen Shui-bian.

Note how the timeline gets in a dig at President Chen. However, the various triumphs of the DPP (a term never used on this timeline) were not similarly presented as a judgment on the KMT. For example, the BBC does not mention that the Blues blew an aggregate 20 point lead over Chen in the 2004 Presidential election.

Note also that about this time US officials start showing up in Taipei to put pressure on the Blues to pass the arms purchase bill. Despite the fact that the arms purchase has dominated headlines here for the last two years, the BBC mentions it only once, in 2001, when Bush approved the deal. Think what other things a Taiwan-centered timeline might mention -- the ongoing gravel crisis, the Kaohsiung MRT foreign laborer scandal, the National Assembly and Constitutional amendment process changes, Ang Lee's Oscar, educational reform, the reconfiguring of the legislature, the development of economic links with China, the disputes with Japan and other neighboring nations over nearby islands, the water shortages in Taipei, the opening of new national parks, the disputes over the Meinung and other dams, the delivery of the Kidd class destroyers... there's so much going on here, and none of it appears here. But the Beeb always has space to report China's pro forma responses to Taiwan's democracy in action.

2006 February - Taiwan scraps the National Unification Council, a body set up to deal with reunification with the mainland. China says the decision could bring "disaster".

Again, the pro forma Chinese reaction to a sovereignty issue (no "disaster" occurred, so why even mention this?). The BBC could have inserted the word "defunct" or "symbolic" before the term "body" to provide at least some context, or after the word "disaster" inserted the phrase, "...objecting as it did when the body was first established." Or mentioned the really interesting thing -- the relatively muted Chinese reaction, and the really over-the-top US reaction. But that would mean mentioning the US.....

2006 June - Under pressure over corruption allegations against a family member, President Chen cedes some of his powers to the prime minister.

This is just plain silly. Anyone recall this event now? Why not? Because it was a meaningless political show: Chen cannot cede his powers, and the Premier cannot accept them (anyone ever see a concrete list of exactly what was ceded, how, and when?). All the things going on in Taiwan this year, and the BBC mentions this. One has to question their understanding of Taiwan affairs.

2006 October - President Chen survives an attempt by parliament to force a referendum on his rule - the second in four months. His opponents and supporters take to the streets.

Poorly worded. Chen did not "survive" as he was never in danger, since the legislature lacked the votes. The move did not stem from "parliament" but from the opposition. By using the term "parliament" the BBC lends a spurious bipartisanship to the motion. "Take to the streets" is a ridiculous overstatement -- the demonstrations were largely peaceful and confined to the downtown district of Taipei (and have been fundamentally over since Oct 10). Outside of Taipei there were no large demonstrations at all. Chen's supporters demonstrated once. There were minor incidents down south, but they hardly qualify as "taking to the streets."

It's always hardest to see what's not present -- and what's not here? Japan, for example, though the Diaoyutai disputes were a constant source of news, and Japan has been drifting closer to Taiwan over the last five years. We all know who doesn't like mentioning Japan's ties to Taiwan: the pro-China side. Nor are Taiwan's relations with any other nations mentioned. Nor is Taiwan's extensive technology and business sector, though many milestones were met. Nor are any cultural milestones mentioned -- Ang Lee wins an Oscar, for example. Nor is the DPP mentioned by name, nor are any major DPP leaders mentioned -- only Chen Shui-bian. We all know which side obsesses about the activities of Chen Shui-bian, deprecates the DPP, and glorifies Lien Chan and Ma Ying-jeou. At the moment, the sidebar has pictures of Chiang Kai-shek's widow, a figure of zero importance for the last quarter century, and Lien Chan, who has no formal position in the KMT. No pictures of Chen, Lu, or any other major figure from the democracy side.

Biased? It's as plain as the BB in BBC.

BONUS: just for fun, try playing spot-the-bias in the BBC's completely pro-China explanation of Taiwan's status for the 2004 elections. It makes this timeline look positively fair and balanced.


Tom said...

Another informative post Michael! I've been an avid reader of your blog for a while. Wanted to leave a comment for once =)

I got interested in Taiwan history after my dad gave me a copy of Formosa Betrayed by George Kerr. The book was banned by the KMT just 2 decades ago. Its amazing how much has changed yet still stayed the same.

Keep up the good work. Always looking forward to your updates.

Scott said...

For many years, I had a lot of respect for the BBC, but since coming to Taiwan, I have lost much of that respect.

It's easy for us who live here to forget, but unfortunately, events in Taiwan are just not considered important enough on their own to warrant serious attention. One reason the BBC constantly injects China's policy positions into the timeline and its other reports is because the China-angle is the only thing that makes Taiwan events newsworthy at all for the BBC. If Taiwan was considered important in and of itself, then the BBC would find competent journalists who could provide intelligent coverage of the political scene in Taiwan.

Also, they want to avoid the appearance of taking sides, and they think they are presenting a balanced and neutral point of view.

I also believe that one of the reasons Taiwan situation is not taken more seriosly by European news services in particular is because Taiwan is so strongly associated with the USA by Europeans. For many of them, Taiwan is just another of the world's policeman's pet projects. So to the extent that China taking over Taiwan would mean a net loss of US influence, then it would be hard to generate much sympathy for Taiwan in Europe or the UN. In Europe, the relevance (and newsworthiness) of Taiwan in terms of democracy and self-determination is still overshadowed by its relevance as a symbol of the USA's cold-war strategy of propping up repressive anti-communist client states.

Also, for several generations now, Europeans have grown used to seeing international relations in terms of the competition between two superpowers. Those who were critical of the USA during the Cold War were more likely to be forgiving of excesses on the part of the USSR. Now, I think China has replaced the USSR in this European dualistic world-view. The more critical they are of the USA, the more likely they are to be sympathetic and forgiving toward China. The persistent perception of Taiwan as a US protectorate is unfortunately something that continues to be an obstacle to a better understanding of how Taiwan issues are relevant to Europe and the rest of the world.

Mark said...

Nice analysis Michael, the BBC has been sucking up to China for years. Rememberthat flap about the Mao documentary. That potential blacklisting on the Mainland scared them badly, as well as other media companies.

Charlie said...

Yeah yeah scott they can only think about it dualistly. So a better way to explain it and keep the format is to say taiwan is Athens and cina is Sparta.. ah foreshadowing.or greece and perisan Molon labe!!

Charlie said...

Yeah yeah scott they can only think about it dualistly. So a better way to explain it and keep the format is to say taiwan is Athens and cina is Sparta.. ah foreshadowing.or greece and persia Molon labe!!