Lawmakers across party lines on Thursday accused President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of interfering with media independence amid reports that the president had telephoned the top managers of five local media companies in an attempt to reverse public opinion about his move to strip Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) membership.
Local media reports on Thursday said that with a majority of the public sympathizing with Wang in the so-called “September political strife,” the president had called the managers of two TV news stations and the chief editors of three newspapers in a bid to “turn the tables” in his favor.
The political strife, which critics said was orchestrated by Ma against Wang, refers to allegations of improper lobbying by the speaker on behalf of Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) in a legal matter, and the subsequent decision by the KMT’s Central Evaluation and Discipline Committee to revoke Wang’s party membership on Sept. 11.
The decision could have invalidated Wang’s status as a KMT legislator-at-large and thus deprived him of the speakership were it not for a court ruling on Wang’s injunction request on Sept. 15, allowing him to retain his party membership and rights until the case is settled by the courts.
The KMT filed an appeal with a higher court on Monday and a ruling is expected next week.
KMT Legislator Chen Ken-te (陳根德) said it was apparent that Ma made the telephone calls in an attempt to intervene in media operations.
“Was it really necessary for a head of state to personally give orders to the media over such a small case?” Chen asked, adding that such calls were inappropriate regardless of what Ma said during the telephone conversations.
People First Party Legislator Chen Yi-chieh (陳怡潔) said that from a judicial perspective, Ma should have avoided handling the incident because as KMT chairman, he was also an interested party in the case.
“How could Ma reach his black hands into media operations to try to influence the ruling [next week]? He is doing the opposite of his repeated pledge to protect judicial independence,” Chen said.
He said Ma should exercise self-discipline and refrain from undermining newsroom and judicial autonomy.
However, a senior KMT member who requested anonymity defended Ma’s move, saying the president only called to express his gratitude to the media companies for “taking into account the significance of judicial independence when reporting about the incident.”