Mon, Feb 02, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Freedom of press has plummeted under Ma

By Hsieh Chih-lu 謝秩祿

Half a year after President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration took office, its control over the media is gradually taking hold. The practice of gagging the press is returning to Taiwan.

One example is the recent rumor that television show host Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀) of SETTV may be replaced after the Lunar New Year because his political stance is considered “too green,” which would have an adverse impact on the station’s bid for government projects.

Meanwhile, the budget for the Public Television Service (PTS) has been frozen and its program content must be reviewed by the Government Information Office as part of the budget application process. On top of that, legislators made things difficult for PTS board members and the general manager because they were not “blue enough.” The government is also considering greatly increasing the number of board members in order to tighten its control of the station.

Earlier, the residence of Chen Tsung-yi (陳宗逸), news editor of the pro-localization weekly New Taiwan (新台灣), was searched for no reason and police have visited political commentator Paul Lin (林保華) and his wife.

It is obvious that those who dare to oppose the pro-China, pro-unification government — individuals or media outlets — had better be careful as suppression is back.

Since the Ma administration assumed office, controlling the media has been its primary task. Last July, when the Central News Agency (CNA) underwent a personnel reshuffle, not only did top leaders of Ma’s presidential election campaign join the team, but with the exception of the chairman, at least 70 percent of the board members appointed by Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), are Mainlanders like Liu himself. Since then, professionalism at CNA has degenerated and it is now a cheerleading squad for the Ma government.

Two months later, Radio Taiwan International (RTI) was pressured by the government, which demanded that the station not be too critical of China. Then-RTI chairman Cheng Yu (鄭優) and several board members were forced to resign after being humiliated by the government and pan-blue media outlets, placing RTI under the control of the government as well.

Along the same lines, after having existed for 25 years, the Broadcasting Development Fund (廣電基金) was dissolved because its chairman was considered “pan-green.”

The crackdown on grassroots radio stations criticizing the government for alleged legal violations has also highlighted the fact that the authorities brook no dissent.

It is inevitable that a one-party state controls the media. The Chinese government has never allowed broadcasting media to be privatized. Even when they were in opposition, the pan-blue camp took advantage of its legislative majority to pass the unconstitutional National Communications Commission Organic Law (國家通訊傳播委員會組織法), which gives the government control over the media. Now that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is back in power, it has adopted the same approach as marketers by spending large sums of money and having newspaper editors-in-chief interview government heads for publication. More importantly, media outlets and individuals that don’t do as they are told are being intimidated.

Taiwan’s press freedom used to rank first in Asia. However, half a year after Ma was sworn in, the ranking has plummeted.

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