Seemingly isolated incidents observed over a given period of time can, if they occur frequently enough, form a pattern. This is what appears to be emerging under President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration in terms of how it handles the right of ordinary people and the media to freely express their opinions.
Though the origins of this process can be traced back to the early days of the Ma administration, this month alone confronted us with a series of incidents involving government intrusion into the realm of freedom of expression.
First was a notice by the Ministry of Education to the Professional Technology Temple’s (PTT) Gossip Board, a popular online bulletin board hosted by National Taiwan University, calling on administrators to request that users tone down their political rhetoric to ensure a “cleaner” environment. Although Minister of Education Wu Ching-ji (吳清基) called the notice a “friendly reminder,” PTT users by the hundreds saw it differently, referring to it as the imposition of “martial law on the Internet.”
Then, less than a week later, came the outburst over comments by political commentator Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀), who during a public event used “improper” language when referring to Ma and subsidies for Chinese students. What should have been a minor incident was instantly turned, both by the Ma administration and pan-blue media, into the public crucifixion of an individual who disagreed with the administration’s policies.
This was followed a few days later by a threat by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Secretary-General King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) to take legal action against commentators on another political talk show — this time on Formosa TV (FTV) — to “defend the KMT’s reputation” over comments that “departed from the truth.”
As with the PTT board, a letter was sent to FTV’s management. Prior to this, former KMT chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄) had filed a lawsuit against the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) and King had sued yet another political commentator, Chung Nien-huang (鍾年晃).
All had, in one way or another, been discussing highly controversial rulings in corruption cases against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Upon unleashing its crusade against talking heads, the KMT maintained it was not targeting the media per se, but rather the “extreme stances” taken by the commentators, which could nevertheless lead those outlets to impose self-censorship.
All of this occurred days after Ma, publicly denouncing a court ruling that cleared Chen of bribery charges in one of the many cases against him, said the decision did not meet the “will” and “expectations” of the people.
Combining these remarks with the KMT accusing its detractors of “departing from the truth,” we see a political party that believes it has a prerogative on the “truth” and “reality.” Anyone who opposes that, therefore, is fair game for a “friendly reminder,” a soft authoritarian tool if ever there was one. Should this practice be allowed to continue, the chilling effect on the media’s role of helping shape, define and redefine reality could be serious.
Patterns aside, we wouldn’t have reason to worry so much were it not for the KMT’s decades-long history of assault on freedom of speech during the White Terror era. We also wouldn’t have reason to worry so much were it not for the Ma administration’s cozying up to an authoritarian regime in Beijing that has perfected the art of information control.
The Ma administration and the KMT are fully aware that their cross-strait policies, let alone the politicization of the judiciary, are unpopular with Taiwanese. Consequently, and still bent on forging ahead with total disregard for the wishes of the people, they have little choice but to crack down on dissent so that “reality” — as defined by sanitized, self-censored public debate — continues to provide the illusion that their policies have wide popular support.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯) wrote: “The KMT must fall for Taiwan to improve.’ Allow me to ask the question again: Is this really true?” It matters not how many times Hsu asks the question, my answer will always be the same: “Yes, the KMT must be toppled for Taiwan to improve.” In the lengthy Facebook post, titled “What were those born in the 1980s guilty of?” Hsu harked back to the idealistic aspirations of the 2014 Sunflower movement before heaping opprobrium on the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP)
The scuffle between Chinese embassy staffers in Fiji and a Taiwanese diplomat at a Republic of China (ROC) Double Ten National Day celebration has turned into a public relations opportunity for the government, Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Although the incident occurred on Oct. 8, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) downplayed it, only for the story to be picked up by the foreign media, forcing the ministry to respond. The public and opposition parties asked why the government had failed to remonstrate more strongly in the first instance. It is still unclear whether the ministry missed a trick
US President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, former US vice president Joe Biden, are holding their final debate tonight. In their foreign policy debate, China is sure to be a major issue of contention for the two candidates. Here are several questions the moderator should pose to the candidates: For both: In the first televised US presidential debates in 1960, then-Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and his Republican counterpart, Richard Nixon, were asked whether the US should intervene if communist China attacked Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Kennedy said no, unless the main island of Taiwan was also attacked.
For most of us, the colorful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves — we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy not to notice the perilous state they are in: We have lost 50 percent of coral reefs in the past 20 years and more than 90 percent are expected to die by 2050, a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California, earlier this year showed. As the oceans heat further and