Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Preserving editorial independence

Amid reports that newspapers such as the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are selling assets and cutting jobs came news that China is pumping more money into enhancing its media influence abroad.

China’s International Herald Leader reported on Tuesday that Chinese authorities had approved a budget of 45 billion yuan (US$6.58 billion) to launch a worldwide propaganda campaign.

As part of a public relations strategy to boost China’s public image, the money will be used to acquire media outlets in the West, enhance the overseas influence of China Central Television, the People’s Daily and Xinhua news agency, and possibly establish a round-the-clock English-language news channel like that run by al-Jazeera, the report said.

While it remains to be seen whether investment by China would erode journalistic standards in the West, it is foreseeable that, considering the attractive sums it is likely to offer, China’s stakes in overseas media will grow. Beijing could, for example, seek to invest in — and influence — Taiwanese media through Hong Kong companies.

Concerns have already been raised that some companies investing in Taiwanese media are linked to China.

Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), for one, is well aware of the power of the media. On Sunday, she appealed for funds to start an afternoon newspaper to be called the Formosa Post. Lu said she hoped to raise at least NT$200 million (US$6.25 million) to launch the paper in July and “make the voice of Taiwan heard.” But many are skeptical of her plan, given the relatively low funding being sought.

Coincidentally — or perhaps not — figures released by the National Communications Commission on Monday showed the political talk show Da Hua News (大話新聞), known for its pro-localization stance, was the TV program that received the most complaints from viewers last year.

Among the complaints were that Da Hua News provided “false” statistics about the state of the nation’s economy and made “sensational remarks” without evidence, the commission said, without providing further details.

Some political observers are concerned that the commission’s statistics were cooked up to intimidate the makers of the show.

It is rare for the commission to produce such information and the announcement followed on the heels of speculation that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was opposed to the show’s host, Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀), an outspoken critic of government policies.

While it remains to be seen whether the KMT government will seek to influence Da Hua News, there is no question that Beijing has awakened to the potential of the Information Age. The media hold a powerful key to influencing public opinion and shaping its image.

The KMT has a long tradition of controlling domestic media. Now the question is, will it protect the nation’s media outlets and let them freely voice varying opinions or will it support China’s agenda and suppress Taiwan’s voice?

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