Thursday, October 09, 2008

KMT politicizes the News?

Taiwan News has another one of its hard-hitting editorials on what it sees as the KMT's latest swipes at independent journalism in Taiwan...

A case in point is Ma's May 20th statement that 'Taiwan's democracy should not be marred by illegal eavesdropping, arbitrary justice or political interference in the media or electoral institutions."

In blatant violation of this commitment not to politically interfere in the media, the KMT government and party has executed a three-pronged campaign to impose political control over three publically owned but autonomously operated news media, namely Radio Taiwan International, the Central News Agency and the Taiwan Public Television Service.

Although RTI and the CNA were formerly KMT party enterprises, these two news media and the newer TPS are legally independent public corporations. While partial funding is provided by the Legislative Yuan under the Government Information Office's budget, neither the GIO or the legislature have the right to directly interfere in management operations or news coverage.
"Ma's May 20th statement" is of course his inaugural speech. It is looking like everything Ma said the government shouldn't be doing, from political prosecutions to creating instability in the Taiwan Strait -- is exactly what it is doing -- in other words, the speech was a road map. Taiwan News continues...

While the former Democratic Progressive Party government was by no means innocent of attempts to indirectly influence the direction of media operations, RTI, CNA and TPS were operated by news professionals and free of direct interference by officials of the former DPP government and frequently had programming or articles critical of ex-president Chen Shui-bian and his administration.

Media observers had hoped that the KMT government would respect existing contracts of board members, senior management and editorial staff and, based on Ma's promise not to allow political interference in media, exercise self-restraint and respect the need to respect news autonomy and professional ethics.

As Johnny Neihu noted last week in his satirical column in the Taipei Times (emphasis in original):

As unreliable as my aging memory can be, I do recall a time only a few years ago when Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hot shots were slamming government publications for — yep, you guessed it — making the government look less than perfect.

Take former DPP legislator and current party aide Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴). Way back on April 2, 2003, about a year before former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) re-election, the Great Green Hope for the Youth Vote stood up in a legislative committee meeting and attacked the then-monikered Taipei Review (originally Free China Review, now Taiwan Review).

This august journal had the audacity to publish an article by US professor and Taiwan specialist Shelley Rigger that said — gasp! — the DPP would struggle to get re-elected in the presidential election.

The following day, our very own Taipei Times captured the moment in all of its excruciating detail.

“[Hsiao] said Rigger’s article gave readers a negative impression of the DPP and should not have had appeared in a government-sponsored journal.

Hsiao [said] a government-sponsored publication should not be predicting that it will be difficult for the ruling party to continue to hold onto power after next year’s presidential election.

She said such an analysis should not have appeared in a government-sponsored publication in the first place, adding the article might damage the government’s image.”

Let’s not quibble over Hsiao’s inability to distinguish between the government of the day and her party (The irony! The irony!). I would prefer to point out that no DPP tentpegs of the day publicly stood up for the Taipei Review.

There were other cases as well. Regrettably the only model for party-state relations the DPP ever had was the KMT..... meanwhile the Taiwan News get to the three major recent changes that it says have basically corrupted the news:

On September 30, RTI Chairman Cheng You and six other board directors resigned to protest the GIO's demand to "correct" its programming after a PRC state-owned newspaper cited one pro-Taiwan talk show program as evidence that RTI was controlled by "the independence faction" and criticizing both Ma and China.

News analyses from pro-China media in Hong Kong and Macao state that the "recovery" of RTI by the KMT was performed to pave the way for ensuring a blackout to China of likely protests against the upcoming visit to Taipei of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits Chairman Chen Yunlin, Beijing's chief negotiator with Taiwan, to Taipei.

In addition, the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan imposed indirect control over TPS last week by expanding its board of supervisors, which has the power to nominate directors of the TPS board for nomination by the premier, from nine members to 13 with the appointment of four KMT legislators as "upstanding social personages."

On Oct. 5, the Campaign for Media Reform and the Taiwan Media Watch issued a joint statement slamming the action as trampling on Article 13 of the Public Television Law, which mandates that the Legislature should name respected media professionals, academics or respected social leaders as supervisors.

The two media reform groups added that the move "displays the KMT's total lack of respect for the independent spirit of the public television system."

Perhaps most serious was the appointment of former Ma campaign spokesman Lo Chih-chiang as CNA deputy president on Sept. 30, a move which transparently "politicizes" the formerly impartial state news agency. In an open letter released yesterday, CNA Deputy Editor in Chief Chuang Feng-chia announced his resignation to protest this move and numerous recent examples of censorship of CNA news articles deemed to be "unfavorable to the president, the Cabinet or the GIO."

The importance of the CNA should not be underestimated -- it has been a key source of news for English newspapers and foreign media in Taiwan. Its politicization means that an important news source that had previously been relatively balanced is now....lost.

Ma's announcement this week in Japan that China was part of the ROC should also be viewed in this context of slumping democratic freedoms -- rule over China was for years one of the justifications for many odious KMT practices, such as preserving the legislature that had ruled in China for years afterwards. These are not isolated events but pieces of a larger trend.

Good-bye free Taiwan, we hardly knew ya...


Anonymous said...

I am glad people have not forgotten the Bi Khim thing at the Taiwan Review. She hauled the local editors into her office and gave them heck over that. Ridiculous. I have seen subsequent quotes from her talking about how freedom of the press is so important, blah, blah. Too young and too uppity for her own good.

You'll notice now how the Taiwan Review has basically removed all of their political coverage. Not that it wasn't ruined already before she got to it--up until recently, it had one of the highest foreign editor turnover rates around.

阿牛 said...

Tremendously disturbing.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how the transformation from party apparatus to civic institution happens, but if you are a reader of Michael's blog and aren't so familiar with Taiwan or even if you are and are interested in really good content on Taiwan, the Taiwan Review, RTI (both Chinese and an English station directed at foreigners in Taiwan available, Central News Agency (CNA Chinese CNA English, and the PBS of Taiwan, Taiwan Public Television Service are all really, really great.

It'd be a shame if the Chinese KMT really were able to interfere political with them.

Raj said...

This is very childish, and I think that Michael was right in predicting the KMT would try something like this after the election. It seems almost inevitable.

However, for the moment Taiwanese democracy itself is not threatened. The KMT can't do anything about the wider media. If Ma doesn't shape up I think that he won't be re-elected in 2012 regardless of what happens. The DPP need to take this opportunity to rebuild itself in preparation for next year's local elections. It would then have a spring-board for the nationals.

Anonymous said...

Just want to point out that though Hsiao showed some partisanship at times, she was also one of the most progressive legislators out there, working on things like gay rights issues. She was also one of the few politicians truly completely comfortable in English, having done her undergrad at Oberlin and a Master's at Columbia (well, I'm sure her Mom being American helped too).

Anonymous said...

I think Raj was right there - Ma won't be re-elected in 2012 but this still doesn't scare him, why? Call me paranoid but I think it's possible Ma is making sure that there will be no presidential election in 2012.

If we look at Ma's history. He used to care a lot about opinion polls and his popularity. He'd do anything to boost his approval rating. However, this has changed dramatically after 520. The only reason I can think of is that he's already got to a position where he can sell out Taiwan fast and doesn't have to worry about another election.

If we add everything up, the whole thing looks very worrying.

Dixteel said...

One thing I am affraid of, raj, is that there won't be a election in 2012.
Yea, it sounds ridiculous and over pessimistic...but recently I have learnt that anything, including the worst, can happen.
But you are right, DPP has to do what it can to try to win the next few elections, not just the presidential election. Although I am still not too optimistic about DPP's chances...but will see what happens...
And I think Taiwanese people need to be vigilent and stand united when it becomes necessary, just to prevent an complete collapse of the nation in the next 4 years. Tougher time is still ahead, I think.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the news, any guesses as to who the mystery "well known" TI supporter is into whose US bank accounts CSB said he deposited $2 million?

With this and prior actions, CSB clearly doesn't give a sh*t about the TI leadership so why do the TI leaders still care about him? Why did they let CSB have a role at the August 30 rally? Why hasn't the DPP denounced CSB rather than only issue a terse statement that they will cooperate in any investigation against CSB? Note to TI elders, CSB is trying to take all of you down with him so you need to quickly disown him.

Richard said...

raj, you're right on. At this pace Ma won't get re-elected. The question is whether the DPP can stay out of petty arguments and scandals that seem to never separate from them. All this while over-looking the fact that there may very well be no election in 2012.

Michael Turton said...

No question about Bi-khim being great. But that was not a good moment.

Raj said...

I will say that there will be a presidential election in 2012. :)

Leslie said...

As a newcomer to Taiwan, I find your blog tremendously helpful in starting to pick up on national politics, so thanks.

Though many countries do - as a former journalism student, it's weird and scary to me that so many democratic countries' governments have a monetary and sometimes executive hand in media.

Anonymous said...

under sundog: I believe it's fine for Taiwan to be funding public television, RTI, and CNA, especially if the market for that kind of thing normally would be too small. It just shouldn't be able to decide the programming.

I think we have similar examples in the BBC, PBS, and NPR. Actually, it was working pretty well under the DPP. The failure here was to set up the right mechanism and procedures that would have protected their independence even through a change in power.

I agree it's appalling for a democratic country to be undermining important institutions like this, but I would disagree that funding specifically is the problem.