Wednesday, April 04, 2007

GIO Chief Resigns

The head of the Government Information Office (GIO) resigned today after a flap resulting from an alleged improper suggestion that Fuji, Japan, sell its holdings in TTV to the Liberty Times. The pro-KMT China Post reported:

Premier Su Tseng-chang accepted yesterday the resignation of Government Information Office Director-General Cheng Wen-tsan for his alleged intervention in sales of Taiwan Television Enterprises Ltd. (TTV) shares.

Cheng tendered his resignation after Vice Premier Tsai Ing-wen made public a report on the disputed deal, pointing out the "improper role" played by Cheng.

Premier Su Tseng-chang said he approved Cheng's resignation reluctantly because Cheng, whose position gave him an oversight role with local media, did not persuade Fuji Television of Japan to sell its shares in TTV, one of four terrestrial networks on the island, to the pro-government Liberty Times newspaper as accused by a Fuji TV executive.

According to Su, Cheng voluntarily tendered his resignation Monday out of concern that the Cabinet's image might be affected due to his controversial role.

Fielding questions from opposition lawmakers during a question-and-answer session earlier the same day in the Legislative Yuan, Su denied that he was aware of the Jan. 17 banquet beforehand.

Su also ruled out allegations that he himself gave Cheng a free hand to handle the TTV shares case, saying that he did not instruct Cheng to host the banquet, which was attended by Fuji TV representative Sumio Hasegawa, Minister of Economic Affairs Steven R.L. Chen, and Liberty Times representatives.

The Liberty Times is a pro-DPP Chinese language paper. Its rival, the KMT rag China Times, already owns a cable station (CTI) which is rabidly pro-Blue. Naturally, the DPP GIO minister suggesting that a TV station be sold to a Green newspaper looks like a conflict of interest. The key moment was the publication of a report from the Vice Premier which said that Cheng's suggestion was inappropriate. The pro-Green Taipei Times reported:

Cheng came under attack from opposition lawmakers after Hasegawa last week claimed that Cheng and Chen had arranged the lunch to "suggest" Fuji Television Network transfer its TTV shares to the Liberty Times Group.

"It was difficult for me to make the decision to let him [Cheng] go but I have to," Su added.

Su also said he had nothing to do with the whole episode.

"I never told him [Cheng] to get involved in this [Fuji's selling of TTV shares,]" Su said. "I had no idea he was having such a lunch."

The key that led to the Cheng's resignation was Tsai's investigation report.

In it, Tsai said that although there was no element of personal interest involved, Cheng's behavior was "extremely inappropriate."

Although Cheng's involvement did not cause any damage or change Fuji's mind, he, as a Cabinet spokesman, should take responsibility because his behavior has seriously damaged the Cabinet's credibility after its promise that the government would not interfere with the media, the report said.

The Blue side has been arguing that the TVBS scandal has been played up because the DPP wants to deflect attention from this case, and that Su only removed the GIO minister when his popularity fell. The first is probably true, but no credible evidence supports the second claim.

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