Chinese influence over Taiwan’s media has been as serious a concern, if not more serious, than political influences or concerns about a media monopoly, academics and media members said yesterday in a forum held in Taipei.
“Beijing is now able to influence Taiwan’s politics and economy through closer cross-strait integration. The only thing it has yet to control is public opinion. And that is where [Chinese influence] came in,” Association of Taiwan Journalists president Chen Hsiao-yi (陳曉宜) told a forum on media reform organized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
China’s fingerprints are everywhere in the media business, former Public Television Service Foundation president and chief executive Sylvia Feng (馮賢賢) said, adding that the conditional approval of a NT$76 billion (US$2.52 billion) deal allowing Want Want China Times Group to acquire cable television service provider China Network Systems (CNS) was a good example.
There had been speculation that the Want Want group, whose owner, Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), is not shy about the group’s pro-China position, was backed by Beijing, Feng said.
Feng said she had information from inside sources that the deal and the group’s editorial policy were both supported by China, but she did not have concrete evidence to prove it.
That has been the biggest obstacle for media watchdogs, academics, media workers and the public to level direct accusations of Beijing’s interference, because it is difficult to track China’s investments and behind-the-scene maneuvers.
“Everyone knows that freedom of speech in Taiwan is being eroded, but no one can do anything about it. It’s frustrating,” Feng said.
Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦), who served as Government Information Office director in the former DPP administration, said Beijing has been purchasing Chinese-language print and electronic media outlets worldwide and has exercised its clout to contain voices in and activities of the media, in particular in Taiwan.
New Tang Dynasty Television, which was supported by the Falung Gong, was blocked from market access to Taiwan’s cable television channels because of Beijing’s interference, Cheng said.
He added that Taiwanese TV companies’ operations and purchases in China are also “policy tools” that Beijing uses to gain influence.
While President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) eyes further opening the market to Chinese investments, Ho Pei-shan (何佩珊), director of DPP caucus convener Ker Chien-ming’s (柯建銘) office, said the DPP is trying to contain Beijing through appropriate legislation, such as barring Chinese investors from the telecommunications sector and media businesses.
However, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers, who have the legislative majority, would hold the key, Ho said.
“If they succumb to party instructions and Beijing’s pressure, blocking Chinese investments from the media would be very difficult,” she said.