Thu, May 17, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Scholars pan lawmaker’s budget threat

FREEDOM OF SPEECH:Academics questioned Alex Tsai’s remarks that the Want Want deal is a pure commercial merger and that they should not be involved in the issue

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

Academia Sinica’s Liberty Society member Wu Rwei-ren, right, National Taiwan University law professor Yen Chueh-an, center, and Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology research fellow Lin Thung-hong hold a press conference at the legislature yesterday, urging President Ma Ying-jeou to declare his opposition to attempts by business groups to restrict academic freedom of expression.

Photo: Chien Jung-feng, Taipei Times

Academics yesterday hit back at Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai’s (蔡正元) threat to cut the budget of Academia Sinica’s Institutum Jurisprudentiae, after researchers spoke out against Want Want China Times Group’s (旺旺中時集團) plan to purchase a cable services network.

Want Want’s plan to acquire the cable TV services owned by China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路), a NT$76 billion (US$2.57 billion) merger that could affect a quarter of television-owning households nationwide, has sparked concern among the public, rights activists and academics who fear that it could lead to a media monopoly, which would compromise freedoms of the press and of expression.

Upset that many Academia Sinica researchers — especially those from the Institutum Jurisprudentiae — have opposed the merger, Tsai said at the legislature’s Education and Culture Committee meeting last week that he would propose cutting the budget for the institute, adding that academics should not be involved in a “purely commercial merger” and that they were politically motivated.

Academics yesterday said that Tsai’s threat was a breach of freedom of expression.

“It’s a positive thing for academics to be concerned about public issues and make comments about them,” Academia Sinica’s Institute of Sociology research fellow Lin Thung-hong (林宗弘) told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan. “It’s regrettable that politicians are trying to curb academics’ freedom to speak on public issues.”

Lin added that if big businesses and politicians worked together to restrict academics’ freedom of speech through judicial or legislative means, “it would spark a huge crisis in Taiwan.”

Chen Kui-hsien (陳貴賢), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, accused “some politicians” of “trying to make academics purely academic through threats to cut budgets.”

“We have to let the politician know that what he is doing is beyond the power of a legislator,” Chen said. “We need more academics to play a professional and active role in public affairs.”

Wu Rwei-ren (吳叡人), a member of Academia Sinica’s Liberty Society, called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as the KMT chairman, to clearly speak out against curbing freedom of expression and to stop KMT lawmakers such as Tsai from threatening academics.

Asked about the academics’ protest, Tsai said that even if Want Want China Times Group is indeed pro-China, there is no law stipulating that a pro-China group could not engage in the media business.

Tsai said he was not taking the side of Want Want China Times Group. He said he was merely confining the discussion to the matter at hand and that it was the people at the Academia Sinica who were not clear what the issues are.

The Chinese-language China Times, a subsidiary of Want Want China Times Group, ran an opinion piece yesterday saying it was within a lawmaker’s authority to cut a government agency’s budget, but that it would also need to go through a collegiate system in the legislature.

It added that academics clamor for freedom of expression and yet are oblivious to others’ rights, with their launching of a petition to exert pressure on Tsai.

Additional reporting by Shih Hsiao-kuang

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