There were three major factors at play in the Jan. 14 presidential and legislative elections — these did real damage to the success story of Taiwanese democracy and demonstrated that we still have some way to go before the country can be considered a normal democratic nation.
These factors were negative propaganda and misinformation, the glaring disparity in resources available to the parties, and overseas interference. In talking of overseas interference, this refers specifically to that, either direct or indirect, of China and the US.
The disparity in resources refers to the vast wealth of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and the access it had to the state apparatus and government resources. Perhaps the most shameful aspect, however, is the stubborn stain of vote-buying and the willingness of some to trade their electoral say for monetary gain.
For the negative propaganda and misinformation, blame the various media outlets prepared to put their own political beliefs and profit before professional integrity, more so perhaps than ever before.
One expects politicians to resort to negative campaigning — it is in their blood; they will not change. However, the press, supposedly an impartial observer, should not stoop to character assassination.
Certain elements within the media went beyond simply dancing to the KMT’s tune, by calling for the blood of People First Party (PFP) candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). One editorial in the Chinese-language United Daily News went as far as to claim that Soong supported Tsai. Not only did such a statement betray the writer’s own political hysteria and lack of journalistic integrity, it might even have been illegal.
In the past the media have been accused of unfair and factually unsound reporting, political favoritism, inaccurate opinion polls and inflated vote counts. This time round, they were also quite happy to accept “infomercials” and other propaganda on behalf of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT.
Such latitude derives surely from ideological affiliation and an anti-independence stance on the part of the press. That, and the abandonment of a commitment to being the “perpetual opposition” — one of the basic roles the press should fulfil as the fourth estate — as well as a long-standing relationship with KMT governments.
The media’s preoccupation with profit and their ideological stance made it easier for China to interfere in the presidential election.
During previous presidential elections in Taiwan, China has employed both verbal and military intimidation, relying on missiles fired over the Taiwan Strait on the orders of the Chinese president, and on the Chinese premier and other senior officials making personal appearances and giving inflammatory speeches.
Now all they need to do is make pronouncements through the Taiwan Affairs Office and someone in Taiwan will press the message home, aided and abetted by a media scornful of a Taiwan-centric perspective. No longer do senior Chinese figures actually have to make personal appearances, and the effect of the intimidation is that much greater as a result.
The KMT and the Chinese Communist Party finally got the upper hand in the battle for public opinion played out in the press over the so-called “1992 consensus.”