Wed, Jul 13, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Drop in free press rank needs to be addressed

By Hawang Shiow-duan 黃秀端

After the lifting of martial law, the number of media outlets in the country rapidly expanded and the media environment has become increasingly freer. In 2008, Taiwan’s press was ranked as the 32nd-freest in the world by Freedom House. That has remained Taiwan’s best ranking to date. After that, it has dropped continually — sinking to 43rd in 2009, 47th last year and 48th this year.

The 2009 Freedom House report pointed to increasing polarization in the country during the visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), adding that the main reason for the drop in Taiwan’s ranking was that representatives of government and nongovernmental organizations attempted to influence editorial content and attacked reporters.

The report also mentioned that the appointment of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) 2008 election campaign spokesperson Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) as vice chairman of the Central News Agency (CNA) led to a marked decrease in reports that were critical of the government. Taiwanese media outlets often rely on CNA translations of reports from foreign news agencies, but with the agency leaving out negative comments about the Ma administration, the result was that other media also overlooked such reports.

Freedom House said Taiwan’s ranking dropped further last year because the Want Want Group, after acquiring the China Times Group, pressured the latter to cut down on reports that were critical of China and the Ma administration. Other media outlets also imposed self control or restraint when reporting on Tibet, Xinjiang and Falun Gong to avoid upsetting China. Freedom House expressed concern that commercial concerns would increasingly place Taiwanese media under China’s thumb.

Moreover, as the media environment deteriorated in the wake of the financial crisis, embedded advertising increased. The government’s widespread use of embedded advertising enhanced the risk of affecting reporting by media outlets afraid of offending the administration.

The nation’s ranking continued to fall this year because of increasingly polarized reporting on political parties, the Public Television System controversy and the continued rise in embedded advertising despite legislation making it illegal. The resignation of senior China Times reporter Dennis Huang (黃哲斌) further highlighted how serious the matter is. Control Yuan member Frank Wu (吳豐山) has issued a report and proposed corrective measures on the government’s and China’s embedded advertising.

If all the government, businesses and even China have to do to affect the news is to put up some money, can the public really know if the news they get is true or manipulated? What has happened to the public’s right to know?

Press freedom is an important link in a democracy. How can people find out the truth if reporters refuse to report it? How are we going to monitor the government effectively? The countries with the freest press in the world — Finland, Norway and Sweden — are free of corruption, which highlights why freedom of the press is important.

Hawang Shiow-duan is a professor of political science at Soochow University.


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