Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky yesterday sought to clarify matters regarding allegations by media owned by the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) this week that he had said he was “misled” by a Taiwanese student who asked him to have his picture taken with a placard opposing media monopolization in Taiwan.
In a series of articles on Thursday, the Chinese-language China Times, one of the many publications owned by the group, claimed that Chomsky, along with New York University (NYU) professor Ned Block, were “misled” by not having the full content of the Chinese message on the placard explained to them. The controversy centered on the part of the text that read in Mandarin: “Say no to China’s black hands,” a reference to Chinese influence in Taiwanese media.
Several articles and commentaries on talk shows run on TV stations controlled by Want Want vilified Lin Ting-an (林庭安), a graduate student at National Yang Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition, who approached Chomsky for his support. The reports accused her of misrepresenting the facts to the 84-year-old professor.
Chomsky, who said he had been deluged with letters about the controversy from individuals and the media, clarified his stance in an e-mail yesterday, which he said also stood for Block.
“I have been in touch with my friend Ned Block, a philosophy professor at NYU, who was also photographed holding a poster,” Chomsky wrote. “His experience was the same as mine. Both of us were under the impression that the poster called for freedom of press and opposed monopoly, and said nothing about China.”
However, Chomsky denied he was misled.
“I don’t charge anyone with deceit or misrepresentation. I assume it was simply a misunderstanding, resulting from the fact that neither of us reads Chinese,” he wrote. “That’s the whole story. I don’t think there was any bad faith, just misunderstanding.”
“She [Lin] may well have sent me an earlier email [clearly explaining the situation and the threat of Chinese influence in Taiwan’s media environment] as she says. The deluge of email is so enormous I can barely remember yesterday. But neither Ned nor I were aware that the posted went beyond what I just wrote,” Chomsky wrote.
Lin’s initial e-mail to Chomsky was made public earlier this week when Want Want first claimed that she had misled him.
Contacted for comment on the incident, Bruce Jacobs, a professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who last month also posed for a picture holding the placard, said he had no idea what Chomsky knew or did not know, or whether Lin made herself clear enough.
However, the Mandarin-speaking Jacobs, a longtime Taiwan watcher, said the actions of the China Times and its affiliate CtiTV in the affair made it very clear that the group and its chairman, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), are unfit to occupy a larger share of Taiwan’s media environment.
Since Tsai’s acquisition of the China Times, Jacobs said, the paper’s political stance has changed, with “a huge amount of censorship” that did not occur prior to the acquisition.