INTERVIEW: Student protest leader speaks on civil liberties

By Chen Hsiao-yi and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Mon, Dec 03, 2012 - Page 3

“We will save our own country” and “Against media monopoly. Against Chinese intervention,” National Taiwan University (NTU) graduate student Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) shouted as he stood atop a minivan on Monday night last week, leading a protest against the planned takeover of the Next Media Group’s four Taiwanese outlets by a local consortium that includes the Want Want China Times Group.

The Want Want China Times Group owns a chain of major media operations in Taiwan, including the China Times, China Times Weekly magazine, the Want Daily, CtiTV and China Television Co.

The probability of Want Want China Times Group becoming one of the owners of Next Media’s Taiwanese outlets has raised concerns that the firm would command a media monopoly. Critics have also expressed concern about China’s increasing interference in Taiwanese media, as the group is perceived as being pro-China.

Despite his role in leading the anti-media monopoly movement, Lin said he had not always been interested in social movements.

Lin said his interest was sparked in 2008, when he was a second-year student at the National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) and witnessed the Wild Strawberry Movement.

The movement “influenced me a lot, it was my initiation to politics,” he said.

The Wild Strawberry Movement was initiated by college students who staged a silent sit-in protest at Liberty Square in Taipei in Nov. 6, 2008. The movement was launched to protest what students saw as excessive police force in conducting road checks and searches, and confiscating the Republic of China (ROC) flag during the first visit of the then-chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits, Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), to Taiwan.

Lin said he had not participated in any social movements before the Wild Strawberry Movement and the sit-in impressed him, adding that it was what made him realize that human rights and liberty in Taiwan had “not fallen out of the sky,” but were the result of efforts made by people fighting against government injustices.

“Even now, the government, the entire national apparatus, is still continuing to oppress these liberties,” Lin said.

Lin said that when the Wild Strawberry Movement failed to change the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s policies, he had felt great despair, but then started to think about how it could have been more effective.

“Sit-ins and attempting to take over a plaza evidently weren’t enough to move the government, so we needed to devise a more organized plan,” Lin said, adding that it the students had learned from the protests even though they suffered a defeat when they were expelled from the plaza.

Since then, Lin and the Wild Strawberry Movement group became united by their shared quest to safeguard civil liberties, leading Lin to establish the 02 Group (零貳社) — whose name is a phonetic translation of “protest” in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) — at NCKU.

“The founding of the group has provided us with a steady stream of allies which are not limited to the campus of the National Cheng Kung University,” Lin said.

Reaching out over the Internet, the group cooperated with clubs and groups from other schools to share and build on their experiences of how they fought for a more liberal campus environment. The groups have also held leadership training seminars to help more campuses start up social activity groups and clubs, Lin said.

“We are also seeking to broaden our influence via Web sites such as Facebook, or through direct Internet broadcasts,” Lin said.

Lin, who is also the spokesman of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, added that despite the vast support that student movements have received from other sectors of society, the majority of students have not recognized that they are living in a critical moment when society is being transformed.

“We feel angry about the situation and are fighting for the basic right to protest and march, but other students view our efforts though simple political lenses and feel that it is a fight between pro-independence and pro-unity, a struggle between pro-green and pro-blue,” Lin said, adding that many students were disinterested in the Wild Strawberry Movement because some media reports had cast it as a pro-green movement.

The students are now bravely standing up and demanding change in the nation’s media.

On July 31, following Lin’s call, group of students staged a demonstration against the Want Want China Times Group, which at the time alleged that Academia Sinica associate research fellow Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) had given the students money to protest its planned acquisition of cable television services owned by China Network Systems.

The demonstration was also aimed at disproving the image painted by some media that the anti-Want Want protesters were being manipulated, Lin said.

“We feel sad that students in pursuit of justice are being mercilessly oppressed. We regret that young students seeking truth are being blackmailed and terrorized,” Lin said.

“After experiencing all of this we have decided that we will no longer remain silent. The call for freedom will be uttered from our throats and the fire of liberty will in our chests. Though we stand here in the rain, the rainbow after the storm will give us our freedom back,” he said.

Lin has since stood at the helm of a number of students protests, hoping to effect change. Braving bad weather and police, the demonstrators have sought to bring civil liberty issues to the public’s attention.

Despite his commitment to the issues, when Lin saw some students sustaining injuries during a protest on Tuesday last week, he urged them not to clash with police and demonstrate peacefully.

“I’m sorry that I cannot lead you all inside and see Premier Sean Chen (陳冲), but we must disperse because I cannot bear to see you stand here freezing and getting hurt,” he said to the protesters. “We have to leave this place now, but it is only the beginning. This is not our last battle.”

True to his word, Lin held a protest the next day.