A fresh report on Beijing’s suppression of press freedom in various kinds of transnational media outlets suggested that its efforts have evolved to become more “systematic” by not only directly impeding reporting, but also, more effectively, by inducing self-censorship, although they do not always succeed.
The report, which provides a survey of the phenomenon and its evolution, was written by Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst for East Asia at Freedom House.
Some of the efforts Beijing has made to control information are blatant, while some are subtle. In some cases, these efforts are successful, while they encounter significant pushback in others, it said.
“But whatever the outcome of each contestation, the ‘China Factor’ is palpably present, be it at the internationally renowned Washington Post, a local newspaper in Nepal, or a Chinese radio talk show in Los Angeles,” it said.
The study suggests that Beijing has embarked on a systematic effort to “signal to commercial partners and media owners that their operations in China and access to Chinese citizens will be jeopardized if they assist, do business with, or refrain from censoring voices the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has designated as politically undesirable,” Cook said in her 70-page report.
The mainstream media in Hong Kong and Taiwan are among the six types of transnational media outlets the report focuses on, along with major international media; local outlets in Asia, Africa and Latin America; exiled Chinese outlets providing uncensored news to people in China; and media serving Chinese diaspora communities around the world.
The author said that a number of changes that have occurred in Taiwan’s media environment “parallel developments in Hong Kong during the 1990s” — including “a rise in self-censorship on topics deemed sensitive by Beijing and a collective shift in media coverage towards less critical discourse.”
In the report, Cook used the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團), the United Daily News and Sanlih E-Television (SETV) as examples.
She mentioned several changes in editorial direction in the Want Want China Times Group after it was acquired in 2008 by Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), chairman of Want Want China Holdings, a snack and beverages company with robust sales in China.
“Reports soon began to emerge of internal top-down pressures to report more favorably about China and its government. Outside observers soon noted a palpable shift towards a more pro-Beijing stance, commercial orientation and focus on entertainment,” Cook quoted media reports as saying in the study.
Like the Want Want China Times Group has in China, leading Chinese-language newspaper the United Daily News has a number of cooperative agreements with Chinese media and established an affiliated office in Beijing in 2005.
A number of controversial cases involving SETV were also mentioned in the report. These included an incident in which its executives reportedly issued a request that a documentary about the Dalai Lama be aired no later than 6am in April 2009 and an incident in May last year involving the resignation of Cheng Hung-yi (鄭弘儀), the host of SETV’s The Talking Show (大話新聞), a popular political debate and commentary program in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese).
Although the station claimed the Cheng resigned due to family reasons, credible sources indicated in media reports that he stepped down following a series of incidents in which SETV executives attempted to restrict discussion of politically sensitive issues and then wanted to change the program’s name, format and focus, the study said.