Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS) network became embroiled in controversy after it pulled an interview with student movement leader Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) on Monday, and replaced it with a decade-old documentary about the late entertainer Frankie Gao (高凌風).
The contentious move has led critics and supporters of the Sunflower movement to accuse PTS of bowing to pressure by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), while others railed against the perceived political interference, saying the government and PTS were trying to silence dissent.
One netizen wrote: “The spirit of Taiwan’s Public Television Service is dead!” while another individual wrote: “PTS, you should not be a stooge of Ma!”
PTS’ Who’s Coming to Dinner? scheduled for Monday at 1pm was meant to be a rebroadcast examining the student movement.
The episode had its premiere broadcast on April 19 last year, featuring an interview with Lin, who at the time was involved in the university student efforts for the movement against media monopolization.
National Chung Cheng University associate professor Kuang Chung-shiang (管中祥) said pulling the interview, in light of Lin’s prominent leadership role in the Sunflower movement, was cause for concern.
“The incident raised doubts in people’s minds regarding PTS’ media professionalism and political neutrality. It can be seen as possible government interference in programming,” Kuang said.“Therefore PTS owes the public an explanation.”
About noontime on Monday, close to the scheduled broadcast of Lin’s interview, a programming scheduler posted a social media message that read: “People waiting to watch this episode on the student movement will be disappointed. We just received a notice from PTS, the afternoon rebroadcast episode will be replaced by a documentary on Frankie Gao. Please take note of this change.”
Chiu Hsien-chung (邱顯忠), producer of Who’s Coming to Dinner? wrote: “PTS informed me the reason was that they received 15 letters from audience members requesting a repeat showing of Gao’s concert show in 2005. I hereby ask for 16 people to write letters or make telephone calls to demand that PTS make this interview with Lin available. Let’s see how PTS will handle the request.”
The online community piled scorn on PTS, with netizens saying the scheduling change came at a sensitive time, and it was likely due to fear of enhancing the power of the Sunflower movement, in which Lin has a key leadership role.
Some netizens ridiculed the reason given by PTS.
“They said it was due to 15 letters from the audience. I believe it was 15 executives of PTS,” one netizen wrote.
Some rumors alleged that the order to pull the episode came from PTS general-manager Kuang Hsiang-hsia (曠湘霞).
In response, Kuang yesterday denied involvement and said: “I wish people would not make speculations. I have never interfered in program scheduling decisions.”
A PTS official made a clarification yesterday, with a statement that read: “The Frankie Gao concert documentary was shown due to enthusiastic requests by audience members. It had nothing to do with politics. As we have heard netizens’ complaints over this, we will rebroadcast the student movement program at 1pm on Monday next week.”