While Taiwan is already a democracy where the media enjoys a high degree of freedom, participants in a forum in Taipei yesterday on media and democracy voiced concerns that some forces — including big corporations, politicians and China — are still trying manipulate media outlets.
Journalists and representatives of journalist organizations from various countries and territories, including Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, took part in a forum hosted by the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) on the role of media in a country’s transition to democracy.
While several participants spoke about the restriction on press freedoms in authoritarian countries, others, including Asia-Pacific correspondent for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Serenade Woo (胡麗雲), voiced their concerns about compromised freedom of the press in democracies, such as Taiwan.
“We do pay a lot of attention to Taiwan and I was quite shocked when seeing businessmen or the government trying to manipulate the media, like the government giving money to the media to promote its policies through editorials,” Woo said. “We were quite worried when seeing things like this happen in Taiwan. I’m not saying that I’m very confident in [President] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), but I didn’t expect him to be so bad.”
She also mentioned a case where Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislative caucus whip Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) filed a lawsuit against the head of Internet news source Newtalk, Su Tzen-ping (蘇正平), and the media outlet’s reporter Lin Chao-i (林朝億) over a report that Lin wrote about Hsieh.
“It’s ridiculous that a lawmaker files a lawsuit against ATJ members,” Woo said, adding that, fortunately, pressure from civil society has forced the government to respond to media-related issues and rethink its approach.
Former ATJ chairman Leon Chuang (莊豐嘉) said the challenges that the media in Taiwan now faces include attempts to control it by big corporations, politicians and China.
“It is thanks to the growing movement of citizen-journalists that the monopoly of information can be blocked,” he said. “I think a stronger citizen-journalist movement and a better-structured and financed public broadcasting system could be the answer to the problems.”
Haidi Faruk, a journalist with Egypt’s Sabah Elkheir magazine, described how the authoritarian regime under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak held a tight grip on the media.
“Since the collapse of the Mubarak government, we’re now able to enjoy more freedom as journalists, the media is talking more about freedom and democracy nowadays — which are [sic] banned topics in the past — and new newspapers and TV channels are popping up,” Faruk said. “I don’t know how much freedom the new government — yet to be elected — would give us, but I’d say that our freedom came from Tahrir Square and if the new government takes away our freedom, we’ll be out on the streets again.”