Tue, Dec 27, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Standing up for the Fourth Estate

The issue of political parties and the military withdrawing from local media ownership is as old as the nation's democratic movement. But we must return to this old topic because, despite a transfer in executive power, media interference has not been dealt with.

If the problem is allowed to spread, the media will become a needless source of confrontation rather than a force for justice that speaks for the public. Foreign interests may also seize the chance to manipulate the nation's domestic affairs, weakening the national fabric, worsening cross-party tensions and bringing about the dissolution of the community into which the Taiwanese have invested so much emotion and determination.

If political forces do not withdraw from management of the media, the Fourth Estate -- the pillar that supports a modern democratic and civil society -- will not be able to fully exercise its function of monitoring the government. The media may also regress into a plaything of a select few, manipulated to deceive the public, create confrontation and attack those with dissenting views. Many existing outlets did these very things during the martial-law era when they helped the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) oppress their own people. Such shameful history cannot be allowed to repeat itself.

Unfortunately, the problem has not been rooted out. It remains a malign presence that can make itself felt at any time. The opposition majority in the Legislative Yuan has repeatedly blocked a draft law relating to the public ownership of terrestrial TV stations. The Ministry of National Defense has also failed to ask the Liming Cultural Enterprise Foundation -- in which it has a guiding hand -- to divest itself of shares in the Chinese Television System (CTS).

Now that CTS is under the management of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, its managers have stated that they see it as their duty to turn the station into a pan-green outlet that can balance the control the pan-blue camp has over other channels. This confusion of values shows just how incapable the government and the opposition are in hiding their ambitions to control the media.

With the nation's media so politicized, there is little legal basis for opposing political interference, and loopholes are constantly exploited. It is through these loopholes that China has found a way into the domestic market, buying up traditional and electronic media under the guise of foreign capital and producing programs via local agents. In this way Beijing exerts a divisive influence on Taiwanese society and uses "authoritative sources" to expose dealings within the DPP.

The government and the opposition should be aware of the dangers of political influence in the media and work unselfishly to establish legislation to prevent this. If not, foreign powers and their local hired guns will make use of this nation's environment of free speech to attack their enemies, and the government will be powerless to respond.

Even the National Communications Commission will be unable to improve the situation when it becomes operational.

In April 1989, publisher Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), immolated himself inside his office when police attempted to arrest him. This historic act highlighted the sacrifices that had been made to protect the dignity and freedom of media professionals.

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