As President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) completes the first year of his second term in office, Taiwan Democracy Watch has released its annual list of the year’s top 10 democracy events.
Topping the list was the media anti-monopoly movement, followed by the protests against forced demolitions of houses, including those in the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) area of Taipei’s Shilin District (士林), and then by the 200,000-strong march against the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and the birdcage Referendum Act (公民投票法).
These issues serve as a reminder of how, during Ma’s term in office, freedom of speech has receded, the cause of social justice has stagnated and government policy has failed to reflect the public will, forcing the public to take to the streets in protest.
The media monopolization question bears closer examination. With media acquisition deals such as those of Dafu Media and the Want Want China Times Group, media groups are becoming increasingly bloated, and this is endangering competition and freedom of speech. Since Ma came to office, the government has offered very little by way of an effective response to this problem, and has been unable to safeguard the diversity of the media. Especially after the Want Want China Times media acquisition deal, there has been the exploitation of the media group’s public instruments, the suppression of dissenting voices within the organization and a precipitous drop in professional ethics within the media industry.
If civil society had not risen up against all of this, the powers that be might have allowed things to go on unquestioned. On last year’s World Press Freedom Day, almost 10,000 people came out to demonstrate against media monopolization, an unprecedented number of people united in calling for media reform in Taiwan. On Dec. 31 last year, university students held an overnight sit-in protest against media monopolization in Taipei, and various celebrities and entertainers also made appearances, calling attention to the importance of the freedom of speech, with some spreading the message online to the international community.
It was only because of this pressure from the public that the government and the political parties took notice of the dangers to democracy posed by media monopolization, forcing them to look into legislation against it.
However, where is the much-touted anti-monopoly law that both the governing and opposition parties said they would prioritize? The legislature’s Transportation Committee only started to debate the bill last week, just as this year’s legislative session is drawing to a close.
Master baker Wu Pao-chun (吳寶春) was refused admission to executive management programs in universities in this country because of his lack of academic qualifications: One word from Ma, and the law is changed so that Wu can get in.
Surely the enactment of a media anti-monopoly law, which would further Taiwan’s democratic development and protect freedom of speech, is more pressing than the professional development of one man. Does Ma’s apparent inability to stamp his will on the legislature reflect his inability to govern, or does it reflect instead his fundamental lack of will to reform?
On Monday, Ma was caught nodding off during an official presentation. Public service can be draining and if Ma is exhausted by his duties, then perhaps he deserves some sympathy. However, if his nodding off jeopardizes the nation’s socio-economic reform and the development of democracy, then he deserves public scrutiny and criticism.
Hung Chen-ling is an associate professor at the National Taiwan University Graduate Institute of Journalism.
Translated by Paul Cooper