Tourism Bureau in hot water

WHITEWASH OR CLEANUP?:The bureau said it was responding to a complaint when it told officials to ensure that ‘inappropriate’ material was not posted at tourism spots

By Lin Liang-che, Huang Li-hsiang and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Thu, Oct 17, 2013 - Page 3

The Tourism Bureau has been accused of becoming a political tool and thug of the Chinese government after it asked local governments to remove posters and boards put up by the Falun Gong movement at tourist attractions to prevent them from tarnishing the nation’s image.

According to a source familiar with the matter, the bureau recently issued an official document to local governments saying that “a member of the public has complained about the billboards the Falun Gong installed at several sightseeing hotspots, worrying that they might negatively affect foreign tourists’ perceptions of the country.”

The document instructed local officials to step up inspection efforts and ensure the removal of “inappropriate” material.

The bureau’s move has drawn fierce criticism from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers and borough wardens, with some critics saying that while President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has long been known for its pro-China stance, it was preposterous to see the bureau acting as a hired thug for the Chinese government.

DPP Legislator Tien Chiu-chin (田秋堇) said the public’s right to advertise is part of their constitutionally protected freedom of speech and that the bureau’s actions show that Taiwan is inferior to Macau in terms of protection of basic human rights, because Macau allows Falun Gong practitioners to set up stalls in public places to promote their beliefs.

“In what way have the Falun Gong’s advertisements impeded tourism development in this country? How could the government take down its billboards and keep them out of the sight of Chinese tourists just because the Chinese government is not a fan of the group?” Tien said.

The bureau should identify the “member of the public” who complained and say if the person is a Republic of China (ROC) citizen, she said.

DPP Legislator Chen Ting-fei (陳亭妃) said the Ma administration should know that for Chinese tourists, who have grown up under an isolated, autocratic regime, the Falun Gong posters are not a hindrance to Taiwan’s tourism, but a sign of the nation’s democratic achievements and cultural diversity.

“The only one minding the Falun Gong is the Chinese government, which is why it has sought every possible means to pressure the Ma administration into removing the group’s ads. If we cooperate, it would be no different from pandering to the Chinese government and murdering the nation’s democracy,” Chen said.

Chen Jen-jung (陳仁榮), warden of Greater Taichung’s Guoguang Borough (國光), said the bureau’s policy raises questions about whether the Ma government is acting in response to political pressure from China or making some kind of political gesture.

“There are countless organizations putting up illegal billboards across the country, yet the bureau is aiming its guns only at the Falun Gong,” he said.

The bureau on Tuesday said the complainant was an ROC citizen surnamed Tu (杜), who filed the complaint via e-mail on Sept.1.

Tu wrote that rampant illegal advertising was destroying the nation’s landscape and he singled out the Falun Gong, the bureau said, adding that Tu wanted the bureau to take down all illegal ads and billboards, not just the ones posted by the Falun Gong.

“The document we issued only reflects the man’s personal opinion and does not represent the bureau’s position,” it said.

Tourism Bureau Deputy Director-General Chang Hsi-tsung (張錫聰) said the agency would pay more attention to the wording of its documents to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.