Thursday, August 14, 2008

Same Old Problems, Same Old Media

Lawrence Chung in the SCMP has a piece on Ma's slumping popularity -- same problems we often see in the international media reporting on Taiwan, including pro-Ma biases presented as neutral reporting and the citing of non-neutral figures as "analysis".....
Rapping him for being "incompetent" and adopting "erroneous policies that would only hurt Taiwan", the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) will mobilise 1,000 to stage a protest in Taipei next Wednesday.


The latest opinion poll by Taipei's China Times reported Mr Ma's approval rating languishing at 35.5 per cent in July - two months after he took office. On March 24, two days after he was elected, he enjoyed a 79 per cent approval rating, the paper said.

A July 18 poll by the United Evening News showed Mr Ma's popularity at 40 per cent, down from 66 per cent on May 20. A survey by the cable news network on July 16 also indicated his approval rating at about 30 per cent.

Taken together, the polls make it clear that Mr Ma's post-election honeymoon is over.

The plunge in support for Mr Ma, which mirrors that of his South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak, whom he has praised, has buried the myth that the former Taipei mayor with the movie actor looks and squeaky clean image would enjoy enduring popularity with a star-struck public.

Mr Lee's popularity suffered after he failed to get a grip on the economy, and Mr Ma, who campaigned for the presidency promising 6 per cent economic growth, US$30,000 annual per capita income and unemployment below 3 per cent, is in the same boat.

The global downturn, poor cabinet teamwork and bad communication with fellow Kuomintang members were the three major reasons for his flagging popularity, said Peter Sutton, head of the Taiwan market research department at Hong Kong-based brokerage CLSA.
The piece contains liberal quoting from the DPP but note that the "neutral" position is provided by analyst Peter Sutton: it's not a policy problem or a competence problem but "The global downturn, poor cabinet teamwork and bad communication with fellow Kuomintang." Sutton works for CLSA and the international financial sector, whose position is difficult to characterize as anything other than pro-Ma. In other words, Lawrence Chung, the reporter, went out to find a cheerleader for Ma's team to comment on what went wrong.

The report then discusses our plunging stock market and the inflation issues. It the cites a few members of the Green team:

"KMT lawmakers should support us in raising a no-confidence motion to reshuffle the cabinet," said Pan Meng-an, the DPP deputy legislative caucus head.

DPP legislator Guan Bi-ling criticised Mr Ma for trying to rely on the mainland to improve the island's sluggish economy via cross-strait charter flights for mainland tourists.

"We are doomed if we think China is a wonder drug for our economy," she said.

After this the writer observes the tourism mess -- just 173 a day -- and what is Ma's solution? You know --

"After the Beijing Olympics end later this month, we will start to negotiate with the mainland on how to improve this situation," Mr Ma said.

-- it's the Ma solution to all problems: More China. Hey, why not see if we can increase tourism from two nations that love to send their people here, Korea and Japan?

After quick look at Ma's plans to move all our key industries to China, Chung presents the policy criticisms, but presents them as partisan, quoting DPP Chair Tsai Ing-wen:

"Ma Ying-jeou hopes to use such measures to improve the economy, but these plans will only hurt Taiwan's competitiveness in the end," said DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen.

Ms Tsai said there was also public disquiet over the government's handling of the sovereignty issue as reflected by its tilt towards Beijing and that she would be leading the "100 Days" protest in response.

After citing a couple of academics on Ma angering KMTers, we next meet "political commentator" Nanfang Shuo....

Political commentator Nanfang Shuo said that Mr Ma had probably never imagined his popularity could decline so much in such a short time.

"There is no doubt about his integrity, but it is undeniable that he is gentle yet very obstinate in trying to get what he wants," said Shuo in an article in the China Times.

Shuo is quoted without any acknowledgment that he is rabidly pro-KMT. Note that Shuo is clear: "there is no doubt about [Ma's] integrity." Sure.

It would be OK to present commentators without identifying their political biases if the structure of the article fairly presented a variety of views. But in this case the criticisms of Ma's policies are presented as partisan critiques -- in fact, the Greens are presented as "cashing in on" Ma's unpopularity, reducing all Green critiques to the level of partisan sniping -- while the pro-MA analysts are presented as non partisan commentators. Chung does not identify the party affiliations of the local newspapers either, though commendably the western media sometimes identifies partisan commentators, and identifies the party affiliations of the papers.

Other interesting aspects of this article -- the contempt of KMT elites for Ma and their backchannel communications to China are not mentioned here either -- the KMT has no interesting structural problems, it is all a "communications" issue.

I see no reason why Ma shouldn't recover -- it is early, the local media is rabidly pro-Blue, and eventually prices will stabilize. But don't underestimate the ability of the KMT to shoot itself in the foot.


channing said...

Their friends across the strait are also shooting themselves in the foot with Lip-synch Gate, Fireworks Gate and even a mini-Underage-Gymnast Gate.

Richard said...

Don't put your eggs all in one basket, Ma. The worst part is that China is peaking or has peaked. There's only one way to go from there, and that is down. Sorry Ma, but you've missed the train, it's near its last stop and its on its way down.

Tommy said...

Michael, I would say that Taiwan is in for an economic slump for the next 18 months at least. Recent news shows that the Eurozone is right on the edge of a recession and the US looks like it is just about to tip over as well. Japan has already contracted for one quarter. In fact, every country in the G7 has stalled or is teetering indicating that the world is looking at a general recession in the not too distant future. This gives Ma time to recover after everything clears up, but I, with my non-expert wisdom, predict that he will have a rocky two years ahead of him still. Of course, two years still gives him plenty of time to recover a bit before the next election.

As for the bias of the article.... well Lawrence Chung is Lawrence Chung. As I mentioned the other day, I think there is something to be said when Blue-friendly reporters publish articles that portray Ma as under fire, especially when those articles quote Blue supporters who you can tell are trying their darndest to be positive but not succeeding. It indicates that a situation is obvious and can no longer be denied: Ma's first three months have been a wash. He hasn't made anyone happy.