The government’s recent decision to revoke a China-based English-language newspaper’s license to publish in Taiwan drew mixed reactions from analysts.
Last July, the Government Information Office (GIO) allowed local firm CF Books Co to introduce the Hong Kong edition of the China Daily to Taiwan for one year. The firm distributed an average of 1,000 newspapers free of charge to colleges, academic institutions, local officials and government institutions. In May the GIO suspended the license before it expired.
The government said the reason was that the coverage of Taiwanese news in the paper violated measures that govern the import of publications from Hong Kong and Macau. That measure allows the GIO to withdraw the license if the publication was considered a propaganda tool of the Chinese government.
Dennis Peng (彭文正), director of the Graduate Institute of Journalism at National Taiwan University, said the measures were out-of-date and did not constitute sufficient grounds for cancellation of the paper’s publication license.
“The rules are outmoded. If the China Daily is blamed for being a propaganda tool of the Chinese authority, there are other parties that should be considered as such — government officials, individuals and some local media that praise China all the time,” Peng said.
Peng said the government should figure out whether the circulation of the China Daily in Taiwan was a threat to national security before deciding to shut the door on the paper.
“It goes without saying that China is our enemy, but there are many other rules that can be used to ward off a politico-ideological threat from China, besides [the measures cited by the GIO],” Peng said.
At the center of the debate was that the government seemed to apply double standards to the China Daily and other China-based media, such as China’s state-run Xinhua news agency and the People’s Daily, which are allowed to have their reporters stationed in Taiwan and send edited Taiwan news back to China as the China Daily did.
Hu Yu-wei (胡幼偉), a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Communications Graduate Institute, said that suspending the China Daily’s license came with political overtones.
“I believe only a few people in Taiwan would think that the paper has any influence on Taiwanese people,” he said.
The GIO re-examined the license issued to the China Daily following complaints from Democratic Progressive Party politicians that the paper engaged in China’s united-front work against Taiwan.
The GIO said it referred the complaint to a temporary commission composed of “five to six” non-official members specializing in cross-strait affairs and journalism, insisting their names remain secret.
The GIO said violations included referring to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) as “Taiwan leader” or “the island’s leader,” belittling the country’s status by putting brackets around terminologies representing its sovereignty and suggesting that Taiwan was part of China in its weather information page and by placing news about Taiwan and Hong Kong on the same page.
“I don’t think we need to take seriously the way Chinese media deals with Taiwan’s news,” Hu said. “The era of estrangement between Taiwan and China has already ended. There are so many Taiwanese going to China every year for travel, business or immigration. They know well what Taiwan is and what China thinks of Taiwan. A mouthpiece full of praise of communism won’t work nowadays.”