Thu, Oct 21, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Freedom of the press is on the wane in Taiwan

By James Wang 王景弘

Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) was thrown behind bars for demanding the rights that he is entitled to by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. When Liu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the whole world supported the decision, while the Chinese government said it was an insult to the Chinese people and tried to block the news. At the same time, senior members of China’s intelligentsia released an open letter in which they demanded freedom of the press, but this too was blocked by the Chinese government.

These two issues directly point to the national shame of China, a supposed great power. China does not allow its people basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The book White House Diary contains a conversation between former US president Jimmy Carter and former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiao-ping (鄧小平). Carter said US law stipulates that freedom of emigration was a condition required for a country to be granted most favored nation status. In response, Deng asked if allowing 10 million Chinese to emigrate to the US would be enough, to which Carter quickly responded that the US would then send 10,000 reporters to China. The two then laughed and dropped the matter. That happened 30 years ago, when China’s “democratic dictatorship” was of the same ilk as the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) martial law rule in Taiwan. Both parties spied on their own people and kept tight controls on press freedom.

Unfortunately, as conscientious people of the old guard in China are calling for press freedom, Taiwan’s hard-earned freedoms of the press and free speech are being restricted and abused by an anti-democratic regime and certain media outlets. Carter’s remarks highlight how the media can “create trouble” in democratic societies and how freedom, independence, criticism and monitoring protect the government and society from corruption. The media are not supposed to exist to sing the praises of the powerful and cover up their mistakes. However, honest advice is hard to take and authoritarian rule always relies on coercion and bribery to control the media.

The lifting of martial law and Taiwan’s democratization removed controls on the freedoms of expression and the press. During the Martial Law era, Taiwan’s media did as they were told, and then they strongly criticized the first pro-Taiwanese government. After the election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), either because of bias or favoritism, Taiwan’s media has become corrupt, stopped differentiating between right and wrong and given up monitoring the government, thus abandoning the most important function media serves in a democratic society.

It is only natural that an anti-democratic person longing to be a dictator like Ma would admire China’s media censorship, but it is completely unexpected that Taiwan’s media outlets, after developing under martial law, would respond to press freedom by degrading themselves and becoming the running dogs of the government. If Carter had sent this kind of reporter, I am sure Deng would have been only too happy to take him up on his offer.

James Wang is a media commentator.


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