Taiwan's relationship to the international news media outlets that write about it is that of an island to a mainland. The island, of course, is Taiwan, and the mainland is the news media. They control the news, they define the words, they print the print.
Most news outlets around the world continue to play the game of appeasing China by pretending that Taiwan is a mere island and not a nation, and they routinely send out news bulletins, editorials and multipage feature articles referring to this bustling nation as a mere "island." From the Associated Press to Reuters, from the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, from BBC to Le Monde, Taiwan is just an island, and never a country.
When asked why, a high-placed editor in New York once told this writer: "We must remain neutral and not take sides."
But one must counter that argument with this question: Just how does referring to Taiwan as an island and not as a nation in print make an international news agency "neutral"?
Every once in a while, however, small victories for Taiwan's nationhood pop up in the international press, and it happened again just the other day in that now-famous profile of New York Yankees star pitcher Wang Chien-ming (王建民) that made headlines around the world.
The reporter, Tyler Kepner, an American staff writer at the New York Times, did an end-run around his copy desk masters in Manhattan and was able to call Taiwan a "country" in the published article, writing: "At 26, [Wang] is a national hero in his home country."
The Times reporter did not say "home island" or "home province," as the propaganda ministers in China would have preferred. Kepner called Taiwan a country in the prestigious pages of the New York Times. Score another victory for Taiwan as it advances its agenda on the world scene. A minor victory, an almost invisible victory, and one that no doubt will be met by complaints and an angry letter to the Times' editors from China's ambassador to the UN in New York, but a victory nevertheless.
According to the copy desk at the New York Times in Manhattan, Taiwan is not to be referred to as a country or a nation or even an island nation, except in a quoted comment by a person being interviewed. The Times' reporters themselves are commanded to refer to Taiwan in every instance as an island and never a country. It is a written rule of the newsroom, re-examined every few years, but never changed.
Kepner, in his insightful profile of Wang, didn't follow the rules of the newsroom and managed to get in that one small reference to Taiwan as a "country."
Imagine, Wang actually comes from a country, a real nation, not some imaginary island province off the coast of some equally imaginary "mainland."
Sports has often served to further the agenda of freedom and liberty in the international community, and the recent New York Times article pushed the heavy stone of Taiwan's profile up the hill just a few inches, and those inches count. Thank you, Tyler Kepner.
Dan Bloom is a freelance writer in Chiayi.