In his speech celebrating the Republic of China’s centenary on Oct. 10, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said, as he has on previous occasions, that Taiwan enjoys freedom, democracy and affluence. He said that Taiwan’s democracy is the pride of Chinese communities around the world and he finished off his speech by shouting: “Long live Taiwan’s democracy!”
Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), for her part, says that democracy is Taiwan’s paramount value and that only a democracy that tolerates differing opinions can bring long-lasting peace and stability.
When one recalls the authoritarian government and brainwashing that persisted in Taiwan until just two decades ago, one can well appreciate how precious freedom of speech is. In those days, if one picked up a copy of Time magazine that had a picture of former Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) on its inside pages, the image would be blacked out. Anyone who wanted to make suggestions about the way the country was being run could only do so by sticking up a handwritten poster on a wall on the National Taiwan University (NTU) campus — and only at election time. When I was in senior-high school, we students even had to assemble in front of the Presidential Office on Double Ten National Day and shout: “Long live President Chiang [Kai-shek (蔣介石)]!”
These are just a couple of examples that show the lengths to which those in power would go to keep people under control. To this end, they concentrated their power over the media and clamped down on the means of expression. They had no qualms about sacrificing ordinary people’s rights and trampling on democratic values.
It was through the sacrifices and struggle of countless dedicated and idealistic people that political parties, government and the military were forced to pull out of the media. Things got better, but unfortunately not for long. Now, instead, big corporations with huge financial resources and great political influence are probing their tentacles into the media, once more posing a serious threat to freedom of expression.
This pernicious trend is being driven by the growing dominance of big business interests over cable television operations.
There are more than 5 million cable subscribers in the country and more than 15 million viewers. Cable TV operators do not just collect fees from their users; they also get to decide which content providers get allocated a cable channel and which don’t.
Toward the end of last year, the National Communications Commission (NCC) approved the acquisition of the nation’s biggest cable TV operator, Kbro Co, by Dafu Media. Dafu is owned by Daniel Tsai (蔡明忠) and his brother Richard Tsai (蔡明興), who own Fubon Financial Holding Co. Now the commission is considering the proposed acquisition of a group of 11 cable TV operators by Want Want China Broadband, which is owned by Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), owner of the Want Want Group.
These two acquisition cases have two things in common. First, they both involve investment in digitization, to the tune of NT$5.2 billion (US$173 million) over five years by Dafu and NT$7.5 billion over seven years by Want Want China Broadband, ie, a little more than NT$1 billion per year in both cases. Second, this investment in digitization is a cover for monopolizing cable TV system operations, with Dafu forking out more than NT$50 billion and Want Want China Broadband more than NT$70 billion to buy up cable TV system companies. The reason why they are willing to spend such huge sums of money is, of course, to uphold their corporate, and possibly political, interests.
Although Dafu Media now owns almost a third of the nation’s cable system operators, it only owns entertainment channels, not news channels. However, Want Want China Broadband — whose main shareholders include Tsai Eng-meng with 51 percent of the shares, Gary Wang (王令麟) and others — owns the China Times newspaper, CTi Television, China Television (CTV), Eastern Multimedia Group, plus 4 percent of Taiwan’s cable TV system operators. Want Want therefore already covers multiple media resources, including newspapers, magazines and TV channels, making it the nation’s biggest cross-media group.
Want Want China Broadband has for quite a long time controlled one-third of Taiwan’s TV news channels. If it is allowed to buy 11 cable system operators that account for 23 percent of cable subscribers, it will have control of close to one-third of the country’s system platforms. In effect, the public’s viewing and listening rights will be further engulfed by this one cross-media conglomerate. For example, what cable TV subscribers in Keelung, New Taipei City’s (新北市) Shulin District (樹林) and Greater Tainan’s South, North and Yongkang (永康) districts will be able to watch will be entirely in the hands of Want Want.
At a recent forum, Chang Chin-hwa (張錦華), a professor at NTU’s Graduate Institute of Journalism, said that the media should be a platform for multiple voices. However, the China Times, which is owned by the Tsai family, has departed from the impartiality expected of news media. It often accepts embedded advertising from the Chinese government and has a reputation for always publishing good news about China and leaving out the bad.
Research carried out by mass communications professor Chen Ping-hung (陳炳宏) shows that since Want Want Group took over ownership of the China Times, CtiTV and CTV, a single talent show — One Million Star (超級星光大道) — gets broadcast no less than eight times a week, and the film and drama section of the China Times has five times as much reporting about CtiTV’s programming as it used to have.
As power over the media becomes concentrated in fewer hands, the result is that public viewing and listening rights are once more being restricted. The pluralistic viewing and listening that our forebears fought for is being eroded, and there is a real threat that the days of authoritarian monitoring and control of the media are returning.
It is not enough for government authorities to shout slogans about democracy and freedom. It would be better if they took concrete measures to encourage NCC commissioners to make a bold policy decision that would safeguard the public’s right to pluralistic expression, namely that Want Want China Broadband’s application to acquire cable TV system operators will not be considered unless its shareholders first sell their shares in news and financial channels.
In addition, it is important that more people who know and care about the issues step forward to help safeguard freedom of speech.
Jang Show-ling is a professor of economics and director of the Research and Development Office at National Taiwan University’s College of Social Sciences.
Translated by Julian Clegg
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday last week announced it would impose sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a vast paramilitary organization that is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been linked to human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions follow US travel bans against other Xinjiang officials and the passage of the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes targeted sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials, in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation on the territory. The sanctions against the corps would be implemented
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose