Once again this week, Taiwanese demonstrated they will not remain silent in the face of injustice or when the values they hold dear, and for which their forebears fought with blood and sweat, are threatened.
Only a week after hundreds of young Taiwanese demonstrated in the streets of London following the removal, at Beijing’s request, of the Republic of China flag on Regent Street, a handful of reporters and editors at the Chinese-language China Times risked sacrificing their careers in journalism to protest against the unethical practices of their employer.
At the heart of the issue is the bid by the Want Want China Times Group, the parent company of the China Times, to acquire 11 cable TV services operated by China Network Systems (CNS). After months of deliberation, the National Communications Commission (NCC) announced its approval of the deal last month, albeit under strict conditions.
In the lead-up to the decision, a number of organizations and media experts raised issues with the merger, saying it would not only create a “media giant,” but one whose owner, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), has often put on moral blinders to protect his corporate interests in China. Critics have said that since 2008, when Tsai acquired the China Times Group, the newspaper has repeatedly engaged in self-censorship to ensure its reporting did not “offend” Beijing — a deplorable tradition that has several precedents in Hong Kong since retrocession in 1997.
In addition to remaining silent about China’s poor human rights conditions, Tsai has shown no compunction about using his media outlets to launch personal attacks on his critics, from academics, students and NCC commissioners who opposed the CNS deal, to a Hong Kong-based Pulitzer Prize-wining reporter who interviewed him earlier this year — the infamous interview in which Tsai denied the events on June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square, constituted a massacre.
After the China Times’ dalliance with “embedded” government advertising led Dennis Huang (黃哲斌), one of its senior reporters, to resign in 2010, the newspaper more recently launched what can only be described as vitriolic attacks against Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), an academic and outspoken critic of the CNS bid.
It has since emerged that some reporters whose bylines accompanied the articles attacking the academic had little say over the content of their articles and that the published stories bore little resemblance to the copy they had submitted. Outraged by such practices, a number of reporters and editors — one with less than two years’ experience, others with more than two decades — resigned or requested retirement in protest, choosing principle over personal comfort at a time when employment opportunities in the newspaper business are few and far between.
Of course, such acts of selflessness cannot in and of themselves prevent media giants from pursuing their agendas, and the resignations are unlikely to convince Tsai, Taiwan’s wealthiest individual, to clean up his act. However, just like the flag controversy in London, those individual protests do not go unnoticed and serve to highlight the predicament in which Taiwan finds itself as its government strives for ever-closer relations with authoritarian China. Not only did Dennis Huang’s resignation make headlines, it became one of the cases used by Freedom House to justify Taiwan’s lower ranking in its press freedom report the following year. Similarly, Tsai’s use of his media outlets as a personal tool for his vindictiveness, along with the resignations that followed, will also not go unnoticed.