A program by the Government Information Office (GIO) to provide scholarships for foreign reporters working for international news outlets to learn Mandarin in Taiwan drew a mixed reaction from academics and lawmakers yesterday.
"The program has nothing to do with currying favor with international reporters [as local media alleged]. It is aimed at facilitating cultural exchanges," said Government Information Office Deputy Minister William Yih (易榮宗) at a press conference, in response to a report by the Chinese-language Apple Daily yesterday, which asked if the program was appropriate.
Under the program which starts in September, foreign students studying journalism at certain colleges and foreign reporters working for international news outlets, regardless of whether or not they are based in Taiwan, will be eligible for the scholarship, Yih said.
According to application regulations, the scholarship grants a monthly stipend of NT$25,000 (US$754) and successful applicants will be able to apply for four terms with each term lasting three months.
According to Yih, seven reporters from the US, Britain, Germany, Japan, Thailand and Turkey had applied for the scholarship this year.
"Four of them are now covering stories in Taiwan, and three would take leave from their jobs and come to Taiwan to study Chinese," he said.
Yih said that the program is part of a Ministry of Education (MOE) project to promote learning Mandarin in Taiwan.
"The program will let the world know that Taiwan is a good place to learn Chinese and enhance international reporters' understanding of Taiwan," he said.
Commenting on the program, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Diane Lee (李慶安) said it was "improper" for a government to financially support reporters.
"No matter the reason, the acceptance of financial sponsorship from governments violates news ethics. I doubt respectable international media professionals will take what is on offer," she said.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (
For one thing, given that more and more international reporters covering Asian news choose to live in Tokyo, Beijing or Hong Kong rather than Taipei, the program might lure them to Taiwan, cultivate their feelings toward the country, and increase their familiarity with it, Hsiao said.
"For another, as many international reporters stationed in Taiwan are working as freelancers with irregular payment rather than as regular employees of mainstream media companies, granting them the scholarship is no bad thing," she said.
An associate professor in the department of mass communications at Chinese Culture University, Weber Lai (賴祥蔚), said such a program should be undertaken by private institutions and not by the GIO.
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