Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: FSC’s overreaction send scary signal

Stock market analyst Allen Chu (朱成志) recently wrote an article titled “A lesson in credit transactions for a stupid president.” The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) said Chu used incorrect terms and figures and ordered him to stop writing articles, giving lectures or participating in TV talk shows for one month.

Anybody familiar with the way the media works knows that if an article contains false information, the first step is to demand a correction and an apology. Only if the author refuses, or if it can be proven that the article was intentionally malicious, should civil action be taken. It is even more unusual for a government agency to take an active part in such cases. It was clear that Chu was not being punished for using inaccurate data, but rather for the words “stupid president” in the article’s headline.

Taiwan has freedom of expression, the president is a public figure and credit transactions are a part of public policy. Both public policy and public figures can be discussed openly. Was it really a serious offense to say that the president is “not smart enough?” Moreover, it was clear that Chu’s criticism was aimed at President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) lack of knowledge about the stock market, rather than an attack on Ma’s person.

The commission will, of course, never admit it penalized Chu for his choice of words. Taking even a cursory glance at other articles on investment or securities, one can find similar mistakes. So why did the commission pick on Chu? It is hard to believe that it was not politically motivated. Chu’s punishment has frightened market analysts because it was clear that the FSC was trying to suppress free speech.

If Ma feels he has been humiliated by Chu, he is well within his rights to take the case to court. The FSC’s intervention appears to be nothing more than sycophancy. But will its actions really please Ma? It seems the commission’s bureaucrats are even more “stupid” than Ma himself.

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) has repeatedly complained about unreasonable media criticism, but he never put pressure on media outlets. This is democratic tolerance. Many in the media have long labeled former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) corrupt. Although he strongly disagrees with this accusation, he never allowed the authorities to impose sanctions against media outlets because he believed in freedom of the press. Thanks to Lee and Chen’s tolerance and protection of the press, Taiwan tied with Japan as Asia’s freest media environment and ranked 35th in the world in the latest Freedom House report.

Not yet six months back in power, there have been many indications that the KMT’s authoritarian past is being resurrected. During Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin’s (陳雲林) visit to Taipei, police were ordered to restrict the public’s freedom of movement and expression, causing clashes and great public dissatisfaction. Many media outlets saw the phenomenon as a return to a police state and a severe threat to Taiwan’s democracy and freedom.

Maybe Ma has not authorized the restrictions on freedom of expression and movement that his officials appear so eager to impose, but if he fails to speak out to defend these rights, officials will continue to whittle away at them.

The KMT may enjoy being back in power, but it should remember that it lost power eight years ago not because of economic woes but because the public was so fed up with restrictions on democracy, freedom and human rights. The KMT is ignoring that lesson at its own risk.

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