Taiwan’s hard-won freedom of expression is under threat from Chinese attempts to gain control of media outlets, as well as the policies of the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), critics said yesterday.
“The freedom of expression we enjoy in Taiwan today is the hard-earned fruit of the sacrifices of many human rights pioneers,” Taiwan Thinktank chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志) told a forum on freedom of speech in Taipei yesterday.
“Unfortunately, this freedom has come under threat recently because of the meddling of a foreign authoritarian government, the authoritarian mentality of our government and its collaboration with a country that is hostile to us,” Chen said.
China is that foreign country, he said.
Chen said China was trying to gain control over media in Taiwan by investing in or buying outlets, while the Taiwanese government eliminated information from media reports that portrays itself or China negatively.
The government is accomplishing this by “excluding targeted media outlets from government-sponsored projects or by pulling commercials from those media outlets,” he said.
Former Presidential Office secretary-general Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭), also took part in the forum, saying she was concerned that most people in Taiwan were not aware of the threat.
“When media bosses are thinking about investing in China or when they get their money from China, how do you expect the media to provide balanced and fair reports when it comes to anything related to China?” Yeh asked.
“It’s sad that most people in Taiwan are not aware of it — they’re like frogs gradually cooking alive in warm water: By the time they realize the water is boiling, it’ll be too late,” she said.
National Taiwan University professor of economics Chang Ching-hsi (張清溪), who practices Falun Gong, said when New Tang Dynasty TV (NTDTV), a Chinese TV network based outside China, was trying to buy a channel to broadcast in Taiwan in 2007, no cable system owners would sell them one.
NTDTV has a strong focus on Falun Gong and human rights-related developments in China, including coverage on Beijing’s persecution of the spiritual movement.
“They told me they didn’t want to earn ‘troublesome money’ from us because we’re Falun Gong,” Chang said. “When you take a closer look at these cable system companies, you find that most of them have investments in China.”
Association of Taiwan Journalists chairman Leon Chuang (莊豐嘉), meanwhile, criticized Ma for giving former aides management positions at the state-owned Radio Taiwan International and the Central News Agency (CNA) after taking office in May.
Chuang, who was then CNA’s deputy editor-in-chief, resigned in protest.
He also panned the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus for freezing part of the budget for the Taiwan Broadcasting Systems (TBS) and its proposal that TBS projects be subject to legislative review.
“Although most people are not aware of it, freedom of expression is weakening and the situation is very bad,” Chuang said. “We’re forced to see the world through the eyes of China and some people still believe that it can be called ‘global perspective.’”
In other news, former national policy adviser Huang Hua (黃華) continued his hunger strike for the sixth day yesterday at Liberty Square in Taipei in honor of democracy movement pioneer Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who committed suicide by self-immolation 20 years ago.