Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 8 News List

More than lip service to be paid to free speech

By Cheng Tzu-leong 鄭自隆

The controversial Special Report VCD -- which contains personal attacks on People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) and other opposition politicians -- has led us to wonder: Apart from the freedom-of-speech issue, why have such alternative media appeared in Taiwan where the communication industry is highly developed?

Legislators are not the only ones who enjoy the freedom of speech. Many lawmakers who wag their tongues recklessly usually hide under the umbrella of legislative immunity. They often make irresponsible remarks and completely ignore the feelings of the accused. However, once they are criticized, they rush to court and file lawsuits.

Take Special Report for example. PFP Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅), who was a National Taiwan University professor, filed a lawsuit against the production simply because he is called a "roaring beast" in the VCDs -- which sounds like the word "professor" in Chinese. On one hand, those lawmakers have lost their magnanimity in the face of public criticism. On the other hand, some of them have downgraded themselves to the status of domestic subjects of Soong by filing a lawsuit for him. If Soong feels wronged by the VCDs, he should file a lawsuit by himself.

Next, why have such VCDs appeared in Taiwan where the communication industry is highly developed and the number of broadcast channels is large? The Special Report VCD is considered alternative or underground. Such options appear when society's mainstream media only allow for one voice. They exist in many developing, or even developed, countries worldwide.

From the underground magazines during the tangwai (outside the Chinese Nationalist Party [KMT]) movement in the two Chiang's (兩蔣) autocratic era in the past, to the illegal radio stations before the opening of Taiwan's radio channels, they were all alternative media that presented views different from those of the mainstream media.

Taiwan's television industry is well-developed today, as viewers often enjoy at least 70 to 80 channels. However, this situation is an example of US academic Theodore Peterson's criticism on newspaper liberalism 30 years ago. As he said, gigantic and centralized media may depart from the spirit of a free-speech market, as their owners attempt to achieve political or economic goals through them, sacrificing opposite opinions while boycotting social reforms. Under such circumstances, as he said, the media may become another social and economic class that hampers the freedom of speech and public interests as well.

Taiwan's TV stations have leaned toward commercial interests on the one hand and centralized political ideologies on the other. Most political commentary talk shows on TV are hosted by opposition politicians or those who lean toward the blue camp. As a result, rebuking President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has become a daily routine on those talk shows.

Under such circumstances, Special Report was produced because the voice of Taiwan's grassroots can hardly be heard in the so-called mainstream media. The Taiwanese people's freedom of speech should certainly be respected. Besides, the contents of the VCD are not completely worthless. The VCD, which alleges that Soong may have liver cancer, has reflected some people's doubts.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of democratic politics, and it should be protected and regulated by the law. Politicians should not be afraid of it, and they are not the only ones who enjoy it.

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