Fri, Feb 06, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: KMT rolling back media freedom

It appears as if the National Communications Commission (NCC) has been added to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s armory in its battle to neuter the media and stifle criticism of the current administration’s shortcomings.

This became apparent after the NCC on Tuesday singled out SET TV’s political chat show Da Hua News (大話新聞, or “Talking Show”) for censure.

The commission’s failure to produce evidence of the show’s alleged transgressions speaks volumes for the professionalism of a body that was ruled “unconstitutional” by the Council of Grand Justices in 2006 and, despite cosmetic changes, still leaves major doubts hanging over its neutrality.

The NCC’s rebuke also comes just a month after Talking Show cut its weekend programs as part of a “cost-cutting” exercise. News of the cut came shortly after a raid on the home of the channel’s president by Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau officials.

Rumors that the show’s popular host, Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀), would be replaced or that the show might be dropped altogether — a strange move considering it is rated the nation’s most popular political talk show — had to be scotched by station officials at the company’s year-end party.

Add to this Wednesday’s NCC-proposed amendment to the Satellite Radio and Television Act (衛星廣播電視法) that would set stricter fact-checking regulations on such shows and see repeat offenders removed from the airwaves, and it could be interpreted as part of a concerted attack on one of the most vocal critics of government policy.

This seems even more the case when one considers that government-friendly political talk shows that present gossip and rumor as fact on a daily basis have not come in for similar criticism and treatment.

While the NCC may receive complaints from viewers unhappy with the subject or content discussed on any particular show, if the views presented on air are backed up with facts and figures then there should be no case to answer, regardless of the sensitivities of viewers.

The media’s right to broadcast opinions should be judged on whether what is said is based on fact, not on whether certain sections of the public disagree with it. This is at the heart of the NCC’s proposed amendment, but whether any law will be applied evenhandedly or just used to attack government critics remains to be seen.

Who would have imagined that when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) praised Singapore’s government during a visit in 2007 that, once back in power, he and his party would use the “rule of law” as a premise to replicate Singapore’s infamously sanitized, ­government-controlled news media?

But with the well-documented government interference in the affairs of the Central News Agency, Radio Taiwan International and Public Television Services as evidence, and now the pressure being ratcheted up on Talking Show, things certainly seem to be heading in that direction.

While he was in Singapore, Ma also said that Taiwan was different because it emphasized democracy. Ma should know that media freedom is vital to the survival of any democracy, especially one where a single party has a vice-like grip on all the instruments of state.

That is, unless his administration is intent on rolling back Taiwan’s democracy in the same way it is rolling back its media freedom.

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