The Government Information Office (GIO) yesterday refused to comment on reports showing a tightening of media controls in China and said it would maintain its plan to further open Taiwan to Chinese journalists.
Chinese social media were abuzz over the weekend after remarks by the new head of China Central Television (CCTV), who said that the first job of a journalist was to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the state, were leaked on the Internet.
Hu Zhanfan (胡占凡), who took the reins at CCTV last month, said journalists who believed they were independent professionals rather than “propaganda workers” were making a “fundamental mistake.”
Although Hu had made the comments at a special forum on “fake news” in January, they quickly spread after they were posted on a Chinese microblogging site over the weekend. Angered by signs that the media environment was failing to liberalize, some Chinese Internet users likened Hu to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
By yesterday, the posting had attracted more than 10,000 responses, though most were quickly removed by censors.
The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced last month that Hu, a former vice minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the regulator for some of the largest media industries in China, had been appointed president of CCTV. Hu is also a former editor of the Guangming Daily, a newspaper published by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department.
Meanwhile, developments in Hong Kong prompted the Wall Street Journal to write on Sunday that smear campaigns launched by pro-Beijing media were “plumbing new depths of defamation.”
At issue was a campaign by Hong Kong media accusing pro-democracy politicians of being “stooges of foreign powers” as the territory holds district council elections and prepares for the selection of the 1,200 elites who will choose the territory’s next chief executive later this month.
Publications controlled by Chinese interests have accused Jimmy Lai (黎智英), founder of Apple Daily, of acting as a conduit for foreign money and influence to “unpatriotic” elements and “traitors” within the pro-democracy camp. The head of the local Catholic Church, Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君), has also faced similar accusations for his support of the democratic camp.
Eastweek magazine, which is owned by a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, claimed Lai did not have the resources to make the US$5.4 million in donations he is said to have made over seven years and alleged that the funds came from the US government, the Journal said.
Lai denies the allegations and is suing the magazine for libel.
The China Daily, Ta Kung Pao and Hong Kong Commercial Daily have made similar allegations, while the South China Morning Post — the only non-state controlled media among them — ran an opinion piece by a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress accusing Zen of funding underground churches in China and treason.
While refusing to comment on the developments, Chang Hui-chun (張惠君), a senior editor at the Department of Planning, the section in charge of cross-strait media exchanges at the GIO, said the government would proceed with plans to open the country to more Chinese journalists.
“I fail to see why [the Chinese government] has adopted those policies, but I can’t really comment on that because [China] has a different system than what we have in Taiwan, where people fully enjoy freedom of speech,” Chang said.