Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - Page 8 News List

THE LIBERTY TIMES EDITORIAL: Lament for Taiwan democracy

In the two years since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office, democracy has suffered, as evidenced by drops in the benchmarks measuring economic and human rights. Ma’s handling of economic issues has been lackluster, results have been below par and he has failed to deliver on election promises.

Despite that, Ma refuses to review his performance and offers no apologies. Instead, he shirks responsibility, blames problems on the international situation, the previous administration and a defamatory media. In essence, Ma blames all his mistakes on someone else and never admits he might have erred.

Amazingly, the government has not only tried to shift blame for its multiple failures, but also mobilized state resources to suppress dissenting voices and mainstream public opinion through placement marketing and by striking down hard on pro-localization media outlets. The government does this to ensure everything goes its way, even if it means selling out Taiwan in the process.

Since Ma became president, Taiwan has dropped substantially in the evaluations of international human rights organizations. As for press freedom, the government’s penchant for rewarding those who play along and punishing those who disagree means that most media outlets have already been seduced by government largesse in the form of marketing and unfettered access. By willingly playing the role of pro-government cheerleader, the media has largely abdicated its responsibility to monitor the government and reflect public opinion, choosing instead to applaud policies that go against mainstream opinion and the best interests of Taiwan.

In this situation, only a very small minority of media outlets have dared to speak up, tell the truth and defend Taiwan’s identity and democratic system.

As the government continues with its attempts to create an atmosphere in which dissent is not tolerated, media outlets that persist in presenting evidence to support their criticism of a wide variety of policies have been subjected to a form of state violence. This is perhaps best illustrated by the way in which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and state have formed a united propaganda front to discredit their opponents.

Although the government utilizes state resources to suppress dissenting media outlets, Ma still prefers to play the role of the innocent, telling pro-Ma media outlets that he will “fight back vigorously against untrue defamation.”

Ma has also said that in the past, he “felt that we, as the president and the ruling party, maybe should be a bit more polite, but having realized that this politeness has only attracted even more defamatory remarks, I feel it is time to step forward and forcefully clarify [these defamatory claims] and strike back. I think this is only right.”

“I have now realized that some people show no signs at all of changing, so there is no longer any need for us to beat around the bush and be tolerant. We should also say what needs to be said,” Ma said.

We find it inappropriate on so many levels that the head of a democratic country could make such patently totalitarian statements.

Since freedom of expression is protected by the Constitution and the media are expected to fill the role of the fourth estate — and thus have not only the right but the duty to express different opinions — we want to ask Ma, this Harvard-educated doctor of juridical science, whether he believes it is right that the right to express differences of opinion in Taiwan today is dependent on government whim.

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