Wed, Oct 07, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: NTDTV blackouts serve as a warning

News that New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV, 新唐人電視台) broadcasts by carrier Chunghwa Telecom experienced a series of blackouts last month could be the most disturbing and direct effort yet on the part of Beijing to censor the flow of information in Taiwan.

The station reported a series of interruptions to its broadcasts in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and a complete blackout on the day of the anniversary last Thursday.

Chunghwa Telecom is attempting to locate the cause of the problem and the National Communications Commission (NCC) has launched an investigation. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator William Lai (賴清德), meanwhile, expressed concern that Beijing was the culprit.

There are a number of reasons to suspect that China is involved. Chunghwa said it has been unable to identify any technical problems with its broadcasting equipment. Moreover, the timing of the blackout would have been a symbolic victory for Chinese authorities, which have long waged a campaign against the TV station. Beijing resents NTDTV’s strong focus on the persecution of Falun Gong in China and its steady stream of coverage on other human rights abuses there.

This would not be the first time that meddling by China has affected the station’s operations, but if Beijing is behind these latest problems, it would be a warning to anyone who believes China does not seek to curb free speech in Taiwan.

Only recently, Kaohsiung’s rescheduling of a documentary about Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer, followed shortly after by the government’s refusal to grant her a visa to visit in December, raised concerns that Chinese pressure was disrupting human-rights-related events beyond its borders.

Taiwanese lawmakers have taken a clear stand on NTDTV’s right to broadcast before and should do so again. In 2005, dozens of legislators (along with their counterparts in the US, Canada and Europe) expressed concern that Chinese pressure had stopped a French company from renewing a contract with NTDTV. The contract with Eutelsat had allowed NTDTV to broadcast into China, evading Beijing’s tight control on information.

Eutelsat later re-signed with NTDTV, but last year, NTDTV’s transmission into China stopped as transmissions in other parts of the world continued. Eutelsat cited “technical problems,” but last year Reporters Without Borders released evidence — in the form of a taped recording of a Eutelsat employee — indicating that Eutelsat had cut the transmission to appease Beijing. The International Federation of Journalists and the European Parliament expressed concern about the reasons for the disruption.

While it is commendable that the NCC is probing broadcast disruptions in Taiwan, Chunghwa Telecom has said it would be difficult to link the source of the disruptions to China. Nevertheless, every effort must be made to identify the cause.

If Beijing was behind the blackout on Thursday, it would indicate that China is not concerned with a potential backlash in Taiwan, whether it be in the form of a rebuke by lawmakers or the government, or even a public outcry.

Ironically, it is precisely this arrogance and aggression on the part of Beijing that reminds the public of the value of free speech — and of Beijing’s malice toward Taiwan’s freedoms. In this context, and if Beijing indeed was involved, this “triumph” over NTDTV would amount to little.

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