Taiwan’s television news channels are becoming as well-known for making news as for covering it, and not in a good way. This is why the excessive coverage given by several channels to the Chinese entertainment show I Am A Singer (我是歌手) should not have been a surprise, although the National Communications Commission is probing the matter and could slap Eastern TV (ETTV) and CtiTV — and other stations — each with a NT$2 million (US$66,000) fine for their obsequious pandering.
However, the implications of the attention paid to the Chinese TV show make the incident more than just a violation of regulations and journalistic ethics these stations regularly commit with their over-the-top coverage of the deaths of entertainers and gruesome homicide cases.
First, these stations must have aired the show for a reason, which presumably was the participation of four Taiwanese singers. There has been a massive exodus of Taiwanese actors, actresses, singers, filmmakers and producers to China in recent years — both current stars and retired ones — seeking to boost or reboot their careers. Perhaps it is time to examine why going to China seems to be their best option. However, is it really all that different from the hollowing out of Taiwan’s economy by the flood of Taiwanese businesspeople and companies heading across the Taiwan Strait?
Second, the fallout from broadcasts has been dazzling. Not only has China’s Hunan TV, which airs I Am A Singer, reportedly threatened to sue the Taiwanese stations for intellectual property infringement, a mudslinging match has erupted among TV stations and local media outlets.
CtiTV officials held a press conference to announce plans to sue the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) for publishing false stories and defamation, saying the paper claimed the station had aired the entire four-hour show when it had only provided extended coverage during its regular news hour.
The China Times, owned by Tsai Eng-meng’s (蔡衍明) Want Want China Times Group, which also owns CtiTV, has given extensive coverage to the controversy surrounding the show, targeting both the Liberty Times and the Association of Taiwan Journalists, which the China Times accused of making statements in favor of the Liberty Times. To many, the furor looked like payback for the recent battle over Tsai’s bid to purchase part of Next Media Group’s Taiwanese TV and print operations.
Such peer rivalry would not count for much, except for the “China specter” looming over it.
Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the actions of some of the Taiwanese TV stations showed that China’s strategy of inserting itself “into the island, into households and into the brains” (入島，入戶，入腦) of Taiwanese was working. However, his linking of I Am A Singer to Beijing’s use of “soft power” — economic and cultural influences — to tie Taiwan closer to it has been criticized as an “over-interpretation” of events and a lack of confidence in Taiwan’s own soft power.
However, the growing Chinese influence in almost every aspect of Taiwanese life — especially in the economy, the media and culture — is undeniable and one cannot help but wonder about the long-term effects. Beijing’s attempts at “invisible annexation” of Taiwan appear to be along the lines of its efforts to mold Hong Kong into its likeness both before and after the 1997 handover of the territory.
While economic dependence on China seems to be an irreversible trend, how successful Beijing is in winning the “hearts and minds” of the Taiwanese ultimately depends on the Taiwanese themselves and how steadfast their determination is to retain their own identity, morals and mores. This may be the most valuable lesson to be drawn from the controversy over I Am A Singer.