Wed, Apr 10, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Will the media play ‘Pied Piper’?

By Ben Goren

In a recent conversation with a local businessman, this proprietor of a medium-sized enterprise and a long-time Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) voter confided that he could understand the appeal of Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) for “putting the economy first,” a welcome break from politicians fighting from entrenched positions while Taiwanese incomes stagnate.

He predicted that Hon Hai Precision Industry chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘) might run for president on a “white” ticket, giving long-suffering voters an option other than just “blue” and “green.”

When I suggested that it was implausible for Gou to rebrand himself as “independent” having been seen at so many Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) campaign events, the response was one of genuine surprise. This businessman was apparently entirely unaware of Gou’s long-standing association with the KMT.

Furthermore, when I suggested that Han would soon be the recipient of huge economic favors from China, the idea was greeted with skepticism.

“China would not make such a strategic mistake,” he said.

These beliefs, if held by sufficient numbers of voters as Han’s election and the media’s apparent obsession with him suggest, indicate that many Taiwanese voters could be highly politically aware, yet not very politically literate.

If true, one reason for this might be that partisan cable news stations, print media and their Internet platforms, intra and internationally, are increasingly seeking to overtly influence electoral outcomes by manufacturing consensus, polarizing debate, normalizing extremism, dressing factless smears and supposition as “news” and “astroturfing” candidates into office.

Whether a group of supporters waiting at the airport to welcome Han home after his trip to China were screaming “I support you CtiTV” was staged or not, serves to remind us that media and politics are not separate, that every decision in media is in some sense political or politicized.

CtiTV is owned by Want Want China Times Group whose chairman and chief executive is Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明). Want Want also owns China Television.

Tsai’s support for the KMT and its rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Republic of China is well-known, and his media properties’ editorial lines demonstrate this on an almost daily basis.

The question of Chinese influence operations through Taiwanese media is an ongoing concern for the government and those who see how vulnerable the integrity of Taiwanese democratic processes and decisionmaking is to being “gamed.”

The ahistorical idea of a politically independent media with a raison d’etre of holding power to account, regardless of party or faction, has a mirror in wistful thinking that economics and politics are, or should, be separate.

The idea of a mythical separation between the two was promoted by former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as a strategy to downplay and distract from the very real political implications of his dealings with the CCP.

The Sunflower movement that occupied the Legislative Yuan in 2014 was a direct result of Ma and the KMT trying to rubber-stamp the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement through the legislature regardless of the concerns many had about the unspoken political dimensions of the agreement.

Last year, Han won in Kaohsiung by promising to focus solely on improving the economy, but the only explicit move he has made toward that goal thus far has been to reportedly sign deals to sell NT$5.2 billion (US$168.6 million) of Taiwanese agricultural products to cities in southern China.

This story has been viewed 2290 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top