Sat, Dec 30, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Yu slaps himself in the face

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Yu Shyi-kun's announcement that party officials will cut off communication with the Chinese-language newspaper China Times is self-defeating.

Yu's complaint stems from a piece of shoddy China Times journalism that erroneously attributed an ethnic slur to the DPP chairman in attacking people attending an anti-President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) rally on Sept. 25. Yu has proceeded with a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper, despite it admitting that the report was nonsense.

Yu is certainly entitled to legal action against the China Times, which is no stranger to inflammatory editorializing and publishing fiction disguised as reporting. The real question is whether he is entitled to cut off contact between the newspaper's reporters and the DPP.

Strategically speaking, Yu's actions are laughable. The ban on contact is simply unenforceable in a democratic society, and whatever contact takes place -- there are now hundreds of new tantalizing sources for China Times reporters -- from this point on can be painted as "leaks" or as "DPP sources speaking on the condition of anonymity." Neither portrays the party in a credible light, and distracts the public -- including that paper's readers -- from more important issues at hand.

The withholding of DPP press releases from the China Times is equally risible: They are readily available elsewhere and mostly hardly worth reporting anyway.

Yu has said that editor-in-chief Wang Chien-chuang (王健壯) is behind all the misbehavior. Even if this is the case, directing all responsibility at him seems to misread the structures and complexity of Taiwanese media. Describing the China Times as a "KMT mouthpiece" is also absurd, no less absurd than describing the Liberty Times, for example, as a mouthpiece for the DPP. The KMT and the DPP are not one-note juggernauts; they have factions (official or not), disputes and splits, and it is often the "mouthpiece" newspapers that provide the best information on instability within the parties.

There is no doubt that the China Times has been up to mischief -- and it is not the first time by a long stretch -- but it is hardly the only media organization to stoop to misreporting. And if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) did something similar and banned contact with a green-leaning newspaper, the DPP would be outraged and rightfully accuse the KMT of behavior unfit for a democracy.

This silly spat does nothing to salvage Yu's disappointing term as DPP chairman. What could have been a sensible legal response has become a pointlessly political game that makes the DPP look undemocratic. To its credit, there was dissent in the ranks yesterday, including from DPP caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘), who wisely said that Yu's boycott was the product of a personal feud and should not extend to others in the party.

As the man responsible for such poor strategy and intra-party communication, Yu's time as chairman of the DPP is surely under threat now, and not just because of the China Times affair.

If Yu is to survive in the post and contribute anything to the recovery of DPP morale before the legislative and presidential elections, he will need to place more trust in the wisdom of his colleagues -- and the general public -- rather than lend semi-martyr status to a media organization whose reputation doesn't need his commentary.

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