Today is Journalists’ Day in the Republic of China, though few know it and even fewer will mark it as it commemorates the promulgation of the Protection of Journalists and Public Opinion Organization Act in 1933, back when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was running the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
However, there will be a march today to protest against media monopoly, inspired by the controversy over Want Want China Times Group’s planned acquisition of the cable television services owned by China Network Systems. The march is being organized by groups such as the Campaign for Media Reform and the Anti-Media Monster Youth Alliance, who are not only outraged by the planned purchase and the media monopoly that it would create, but also by the coverage given by the Chinese-language China Times newspaper, the China Times Weekly magazine and the CtiTV news channel of critics to the merger, especially Academia Sinica research fellow Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌).
The Want Want China Times Group was forced to issue an apology to Huang this week after an investigation found he had not paid students to take part in a protest against the proposed merger. However, it denied claims it fabricated the story. Given the degree of venom directed at Huang over the past few weeks, that grudging apology will probably cut little ice.
Huang was not the only one damaged by this controversy. Several senior editors and reporters at China Times resigned or put in for early retirement because of the newspaper’s severe criticism of opponents of the merger, including a deputy managing editor, deputy editorial page editor, international news center director and two senior investigative reporters. Three members of CtiTV’s ethics committee also resigned.
At the end of last month, CtiTV spokesperson Huang Chun-ren (黃俊仁) said its coverage was not meant to tarnish anyone’s reputation, but rather to make the point that paid social movements should be scrutinized. The Want Want China Times Group was also victimized by false rumors and it simply wanted to find out the truth, Huang said.
It is a little hard to believe that the group places such a premium on the truth, since its chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) told a public hearing earlier this year that he saw nothing wrong with getting paid by the Chinese government to write news for it for publication here. The idea that social movements, paid or otherwise, deserve special scrutiny also smacks of China’s authoritarianism and censorship.
More importantly, given that the law bars political parties, the government and the military from influencing the media, why can a similar stance not be taken against China? There has been enough slippage in media standards in recent years. We don’t need to copy methods from across the Strait.
A Gallup poll earlier this year found that as many as 86 percent of Taiwanese respondents said the news media enjoyed considerable freedom, with only 9 percent feeling otherwise. That “yes” ratio was the highest among all Asian countries and areas covered in the study and the 17th-highest globally. However, the latest freedom of the press ranking released by Freedom House in May this year ranked Taiwan 47th in the world, one place higher than last year, but down since 2008, when the Democratic Progressive Party was in power and Taiwan was ranked 32nd.