The controversy that has surrounded the involvement of US professors in a campaign opposing media monopolization in the past week served as a reminder — inadvertently so for the principal target of the campaign — that while Chinese influence in the nation’s media is of major concern, reprehensible behavior at home is equally problematic.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Noam Chomsky probably never knew that when he accepted an invitation by a young Taiwanese to have his picture taken with a placard opposing media monopolization in Taiwan, he would get sucked into the vortex of cross-strait politics.
Whether, as he claims, he was unaware of the China angle, is secondary. What matters is that the reaction by the Want Want China Times Group once again showed how vicious and totalitarian its outlets can get when the group or its chairman, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), face criticism.
The group is a repeat offender, orchestrating print media and the airwaves it controls to launch ad hominem abuse against whoever stands in its way. It spares no one, dedicating entire pages in its newspapers and hours on its news and TV talk shows crucifying media watchdogs, government employees, professors and young students. It bends the truth, fabricates information, mistranslates comments or uses them out of context, threatens lawsuits, insults and resorts to systematic character assassination.
It also unleashed vile minions, such as CtiTV Washington bureau chief John Zang (臧國華), to interview the MIT professor — the same Zang who, in early 2009, literally stalked former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) daughter, Chen Hsing-yu (陳幸妤), when she was in New York, forcing hotel management where she was staying to expel him and necessitating the intervention of umbrella-touting Taiwanese-Americans to protect her.
The above incidents alone — and they are rife — are sufficient to demonstrate that Tsai’s media empire will not engage in responsible journalism, a key component of any healthy democratic system. The group needs not even receive money from China through illegal adverts, or fail to report on China’s rampant human rights abuses (the China Times’ fate since Tsai acquired it), for it to act as a cancer in the nation’s media environment. Its despicable behavior alone makes it clear that a greater role for Tsai’s media empire will cause severe harm to the nation’s democratic fabric and the quality of its journalism.
This aspect of the group has not received the attention it deserves, but it should.
If approval of its acquisition of cable television channels and, as part of a consortium, of Next Media’s outlets in Taiwan is solely contingent on demonstrating that it does not receive money from China, or if the acquisitions are dealt with purely along financial lines, then chances are they will go through and Tsai will increase his control of the entire media spectrum. As such, greater emphasis should be placed on the inability of the outlets controlled by Tsai to act responsibly and to contribute to, rather than poison, the nation’s media.
Some could counter that the group’s behavior is defensible under freedom of speech and that it ultimately makes a contribution to pluralism. That argument misses the point: Freedom of speech is both a right and a responsibility, and its greatest value derives from the ability to strike a balance between those two imperatives.
A media empire that uses its immense power to launch sustained attacks on individuals whose only fault is to worry about the future of their nation is not, by any yardstick, a responsible media actor.
The Want Want China Times Group does not need China’s assistance to behave like an authoritarian bully. It already is one.