Academics and journalists yesterday expressed concern about the threats to Taiwanese media of an increasing concentration of ownership and Chinese influence.
Various incidents in the past year showed “it’s time the government exercised its power to deal with increasing Chinese influence, concentration of ownership and the media impunity issue,” National Taiwan University professor Flora Chang (張錦華) said at a conference hosted by the Association of Taiwan Journalists on World Press Freedom Day yesterday.
Chang said that although Taiwanese laws are now able to prevent the “black hands” of political parties, the government and military from influencing the media, the government has done nothing to contain the “red hand” of China, which has placed a large volume of embedded advertisements in local media.
The phenomenon looks set to create an “everyone loses” situation: for Taiwanese, who can no longer enjoy quality journalism; the media, which has failed to live up to its gatekeeper role; and the country, she said.
“I would say it’s a national disgrace to sell news to and reduce human rights-related coverage of a country that has more than 1,000 missiles pointed at us,” she said.
Big businesses’ use of their abundant capital to expand their media holdings has also had grave and negative consequences on media ownership.
A bid by Want Want China Times Group to acquire China Network Systems’ cable TV services — a NT$76 billion (US$2.57 billion) merger that would affect a quarter of households with TVs nationwide — has raised heated discussion, with most people expressing concern and opposing the merger, Chang said.
Chang described the deal as “unprecedented” and said it could jeopardize freedom of the press and expression if approved.
A revival of state interference in news media appears to be taking place, with a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmaker accusing two journalists of defamation for reporting on the alleged pressure put on the National Communications Commission over the Want Want bid, said Leon Chuang (莊豐嘉), director of the online news Web site Newtalk.
Government officials, representatives and business leaders have become accustomed to taking journalists and academics to court — in particular, filing civil lawsuits that seek huge damages — to stop their reporting, he said.
Lee Chih-teh (李志德), a Radio Free Asia reporter who has extensive experience covering cross-strait affairs, highlighted another area of Chinese influence — the way it has induced Beijing-based Taiwanese journalists to practice self-censorship.
Beijing applied political pressure on all foreign reporters, but it is also able to control Taiwanese reporters from an economic vantage point, because “most Taiwanese newspapers and television stations want to get a share of the Chinese market.”
“And that’s why Taiwanese media and reporters tend to self-censor their China coverage,” Lee said.
In the latest freedom of the press ranking released by the Freedom House on Tuesday, Taiwan ranked 47th in the world, one place higher than last year. However, Taiwan has not fared better than 43rd since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) took office in 2008, when Taiwan was ranked 32nd in the world during the last year the Democratic Progressive Party was in power.