What if one day Taiwanese journalists were to get paid in yuan and cover Taiwanese news exclusively for Chinese media outlets while employing Chinese “product placement” in their news reports? What would happen to the voice of Taiwanese if public opinion were to be silenced by the Chinese government?
This is not a hypothetical question, because it is happening right now.
Want Want China Holdings Ltd chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) and his family acquired the China Times Group media syndicate in November. Tsai, who answers to officials from various provinces and cities in China, could report that he had “followed the directives from his superiors to report on the prosperity of the motherland.” The acquisition did not cause much of a stir at China Times or the media industry because employees received their paychecks and bonuses on time. They probably thought: “What’s so bad about that?”
China has spent tens of billions of dollars to get a foothold in the global media. The investment in Taiwan is just a drop in the bucket. Flushed with cash, China can easily feast on the financially troubled Taiwanese media like a wolf among a flock of sheep while the Taiwanese government stands idly by.
The administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is leaning toward Chinese news agencies like Xinhua opening branches in Taiwan. Xinhua is a state news agency that aggressively pushed Beijing’s “united front” tactics in Hong Kong before its handover to China. If Xinhua were to open a branch in Taiwan, what are the chances that it will not do the same thing here? “Entering the island, entering the households and entering the hearts of the public” are the major goals of China’s psychological and media warfare in Taiwan.
Taiwan is a capitalist society, so commercial media outlets are mainly driven by profit. It is therefore very easy to make these outlets change their stance. The Taiwan Advertisers’ Association used to seek order in the media chaos, but now it has become used to controlling the media in Taiwan to avoid angering their Chinese bosses.
What is the biggest threat to Taiwan’s media outlets? It is that they will not be able to report anything that goes against Chinese interests. Many Taiwanese media outlet owners have colluded with China. What’s worse is that politicians and businesspeople are joining hands in an attempt to take over the Taiwanese media industry. There will soon be no space left for freedom, yet Taiwanese continue to think they have a thorough grasp of the situation.
Taiwanese media outlets seem to be struggling to seize the last chance to express their opinion as Beijing’s shadow looms ever closer and their freedom of expression is vanishing quickly. Will freedom become but a memory for future generations?
Leon Chuang is chairman of the Association of Taiwan Journalists.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG.