Sat, Oct 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

If you look at red long enough, it turns blue

By Allen Houng 洪裕宏

A healthy democratic society needs balanced development in three domains: politics, markets and civil society.

The political domain includes the government, political parties and their peripheral organizations. Markets refer to the commercial domain, including the media, which control capital movements. Civil society refers to independent, non-governmental and non-political civic organizations and the actions of individual citizens beyond politics and markets.

To put it simply, as soon as political or commercial forces are involved in civil activities, they no longer belong to civil society. Similarly, a civil movement refers to a movement launched by civil society, and if political and commercial forces are involved, it is no longer a civil movement.

It has been more than a month since former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) launched the his campaign to oust President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Shih even launched a large demonstration on national day last Tuesday. He claims that the campaign is a new civil movement, and that is also the way many local media outlets report it.

But the campaign has been seriously distorted from the outset. Owing to direct involvement by both market and political forces, it has already lost the character of a civil movement, becoming a battleground for political and commercial actors.

The media's involvement is obvious. Not only have they run exaggerated and biased reports praising the campaign and deifying Shih, but they have also become the directors of the whole show. They have become accomplices, serving as the campaign's PR machine.

Newspapers reported that some TV stations doubled as the campaign's command headquarters during the demonstration, which violated the Broadcasting and Television Law (廣電法). Media reform groups have pushed for reforms to penalize this kind of behavior, but all their efforts now seem to have been in vain.

It would have been impossible for the campaign to last for over a month without political support. Take the demonstration on Tuesday for example -- legislators and city or county councilors from both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) were appointed to control 29 intersections around the Presidential Office. The two parties offered their full support to this event.

How much has Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) done for the campaign, and how much help did local blue-camp politicians offer during the campaign's recent round-the-island tour? We all know the answer to this question. PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) has even been given the title "night school dean" for joining the sit-in every night. Who believes that the campaign has not been mobilized by the pan-blue parties?

Some of the campaign's decisionmakers have long devoted themselves to civic movements in Taiwan. Regrettably, however, the KMT and PFP are also involved, while the campaign indulges itself in the myth created by the media, overturning the character of a civil movement and departing from civic society. Due to the direct involvement of both the media and political parties, the nature of the campaign has changed. The "anti-corruption" call has become a tool for power struggle between the ruling and opposition parties. This has caused a reaction from pan-green camp supporters, causing social division and confrontation.

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