Dictatorial regimes do not allow freedom of the press nor freedom of speech. One can see it in China under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); it was the same in Taiwan when martial law reigned, with former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), in power. This is because having a firm grip on information and public opinion are indispensable to keeping dictators in power.
Chiang Ching-kuo used both soft power and hard power approaches in his control of the press in Taiwan. He implemented baojin (報禁) — press restrictions banning the establishment of new newspapers, regulating the number of pages allowed in a newspaper and censoring content — and invited the owners of two major newspapers to sit on the KMT’s Central Standing Committee (CSC), giving the party control over the press. Then there was the CSC’s Cultural Affairs Department overseeing all press activity, giving out orders and directives.
It is perhaps inappropriate to compare Chiang Ching-kuo’s approach back then to a discussion on press freedom during the democratic era, but there was one decision that he made that, in principle if not in motivation, is similar to that of the present student-led movement against media monopolization.
In 1972, United Daily News associates Fan Ho-yan (范鶴言) and Lin Ting-li (林頂立) parted ways with the company, citing disagreements, and transferred their shares to then-chairman of Formosa Plastics Corp, Wang Yung-ching (王永慶). Within half a year Wang was made to part with the shares, as Chiang Ching-kuo did not want business tycoons having their fingers in the press pie, because of concerns over the excessive influence over policy this would give them.
Freedom of the press is also a big issue in the US. In the 1960s there was a slogan to the tune that unchecked monopolies lead to a loss of freedom. The KMT party-state system controlled the press, and the anti-Chinese journalists somehow managed to convince themselves that things were so much better in Taiwan than they were in China. “After all,” they told themselves, “at least we have the freedom to hold our tongues.”
There was a snag. Students who traveled overseas, having been plied with the KMT party-state’s obscurantist indoctrination and misinformation, came into contact with different ideas, and discovered that the KMT had been lying to them all along. This was something Beijing could exploit to turn Taiwanese against the KMT. At the time, then-minister of education Chiang Yen-si (蔣彥士) conceded to US officials that the inconsistencies in the curriculum would need to be corrected.
The KMT no longer has monopoly control over the press, but it continues in its attempts to indoctrinate the public. Meanwhile, the CCP, which denies its own people freedom, is trying to wrest control of Taiwan’s press through Taiwanese doing business in China, so it can disseminate information and ideas that it controls and deny Taiwanese their sovereignty, freedom and democracy. Chiang Ching-kuo must be turning in his grave.
There are a number of people who support what he stood for and have tried to suppress the student-led anti-media monopoly movement, making noises about “poor manners” and “bad attitudes.” I say well done to those students: When people start talking about “manners” and choose not to talk about “sense,” you know that they have already lost the battle.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper