Once again, the government's propaganda agency, the Government Information Office (GIO), has been attempting to make an unreasoned defense of the indefensible.
On Wednesday, GIO Minister Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) blasted the organization Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) for a brief blurb about Taiwan in its 2006 Annual Report, which describes the state of press freedom worldwide.
The section about Taiwan -- a mere 133 words -- took issue with the government's actions against the cable station TVBS and the cancelation last year of broadcasting licenses for several other cable stations, including ETTV.
"Increasingly buffeted by the opposition, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) tried to intimidate some critical media, but Taiwan, a zone of freedom in East Asia, is blessed with a pluralist press," RSF wrote in its report.
The overall tone of the RSF report -- calling Taiwan "a zone of freedom in East Asia" -- is hardly one of condemnation. Nevertheless, the GIO, as the administration's media hit man, felt it necessary to criticize the report, painting it as unfair.
Cheng repeated the government's implausibly naive assertion that its unsuccessful effort to shut down TVBS was a mere question of the company's capital structure and other legal requirements.
Cheng has forgotten, apparently, that TVBS had its license approved after a government review, only to be threatened a few months later with legal action after it broadcast evidence pointing to corruption by one of President Chen Shui-bian's most senior aides, Chen Che-nan (陳哲男).
But even on this issue, RSF was neutral: "In November, the government fined another pro-opposition channel TVBS after trying to get it shut down on the grounds that it was majority owned by foreigners."
This is a barebones retelling of the facts of the case, but still the GIO was miffed, and felt the need to defend the Chen administration's behavior. Cheng ended his remarks about the RSF report by saying that the GIO would rather maintain a "partnership" with the media, rather than "supervise" it.
And there is the problem with the GIO and the government's attitude toward the media. Media organizations do not need to "partner" with the government, anymore than the hens in the henhouse need to partner with the fox. And "supervision" by the government invariably means "control" by the government.
Former GIO minister Pasuya Yao (姚文智) liked to repeat the phrase that he intended to be "the last GIO minister." Obviously, he lied through his teeth, in the same way that any political party that comes to power will lie through its teeth and say that it does not want to control the media.
This is not a partisan issue; it is a question of good governance. Of course the powers that be want to control the media. Even the best-intentioned officials want to be free to do what they think is right without censure and without constraint. This is why there should not be any loopholes that allow the government to muzzle the press, and why Taiwan does not need an organization like the GIO.
The downside of a free press is having to look at graphic pictures of car-accident victims in tabloids and having to listen to a plague of offensive and spurious accusations made by out-of-control politicians. But the downside of letting the government control the media is having roads that are deathtraps because of bureaucratic malfeasance, and unscrupulous politicians bilking the taxpayers out of millions of dollars through graft and embezzlement.