Saturday, January 10, 2009

Freedom to oppress

In terms of media freedom, Taiwan used to be regarded as having the most open media in Asia according to Freedom House's 2008 report. However, in little over half a year since the Chinese KMT (國民黨) has taken back the presidential office, the Taiwanese people have seen their freedom of expression greatly stifled. Whether it is freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or freedom of the press, rights that were once openly practiced and respected in Taiwan are being trampled by Ma Ying Jeou (馬英九) and his KMT administration. To cover up a dismal performance since assuming office, Ma Ying Jeou and the KMT have sunken their claws further into Taiwan's media. First, with television news and broadcasting, before that state run news and radio agencies, and now all newspapers are being told what they can and can not write.

Stations such as TVBS (新聞), CTI (中天新聞), ETTV (東森新聞), and ERA (年代新聞) have always been nothing more than mere propaganda outlets for the KMT, as well as the Chinese Communist Party. The fact that they refer to themselves as news stations is not only a complete misnomer, it's also one of the main reasons that the Taiwanese public can never get any real unbiased news reporting on the island. Now the KMT is going after the Public Television Service (PTS - 公視), the equivalent to PBS in the U.S. In the second half of 2008, the KMT caucus suspended the NT$450 million (US$13.5 million) budget for PTS
and came up with a proposal that all programming budget must be first approved by the Government Information Office (GIO-新聞局). The freeze in budget affected daily operations, program production, and the payment of fees to commissioned production houses and partners.

The proposal, first put forth by KMT legislator
Lin Yi-shih (林益世), states that Public Television Service (PTS), Taiwan Indigenous TV (TITV), Hakka TV, and Macroview TV (aimed at overseas Taiwanese) can only disburse programming and production budgets upon prior item-by-item government approval from the GIO (新聞局), which is just a polite way of saying that the KMT government will exert censorship and control over PTS news coverage and programming. The proposal was easily passed in the KMT dominated legislature just a few weeks ago. The KMT also nominated four legislators to new positions on the review committee in charge of choosing candidates for PTS board members. These moves can be seen as nothing more than blatant attempts to further control alternative media outlets in Taiwan.

Since Ma Ying Jeou has taken office, the KMT have been on a crazed mission to take back whatever freedoms the previous administration had tried to expand on in terms of freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Media manipulation and suppression of the truth are the name of the game for the Chinese KMT. Any voices that criticize Ma or his administration or speak out in support of the people of Taiwan are purposefully ignored as if they were nothing more than mere background noise. This puts into perspective why Ma Ying Jeou appointed the spokesman from his presidential campaign,
Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強), to serve as deputy president of the state-owned Central News Agency (CNA-中央社) and why head of the KMT's policy research department, Wang Tan-ping (汪誕平), was appointed director of the state-owned Radio Taiwan International (RTI-中央廣播電台).

So as Ma appoints a few of his coterie into state run media, the KMT now have another way of screening (clouding) what information and news these outlets can distribute. Reports have already surfaced from both CNA (中央社) and RTI (中央廣播電台) on infringement of press freedoms. As stated in the Taipei Times (1/04/09), "some reporters could not get their reports published or aired, others were told to write down reports about the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or to downplay unflattering news about the government, and a number were transferred to other beats at the request of officials." Exactly what influence does the DPP have currently in Taiwan's government? None really since the executive, legislature, judicial, and media are all controlled by the KMT. Ma and the KMT still believe that they can manipulate and control the media as they see fit. Recent articles coming out of the CNA have been almost comical in the way they attempt to kiss ass and suck up to the KMT.

Possibly one of the most disturbing, and most ridiculous, moves by the KMT has been its recent order to no longer allow Mandarin newspapers in Taiwan to write the two Chinese characters for "suicide" (自殺). The word "suicide" (自殺) must now be replaced with "dead" (亡). The reason for this is that since Ma Ying Jeou has taken office, the suicide rate in Taiwan has continued to increase. However, during last year's election campaign, Ma repeatedly cited Chen Sui-bian's economic policies as the reason people were committing suicide in Taiwan. Let's ignore the fact that Ma had absolutely no real evidence whatsoever to support that claim. Now the reality is that Ma's ineffective economic policies and inept administration have left the Taiwanese people in a much worse economic situation than before. As the number of suicides continued to increase after Ma's election, the KMT first had the National Communication Commission (NCC) restrict all television news from reporting any suicides on television. Now, all Mandarin newspapers are being told to play word games.

If Taiwan is to have any hope of developing into a truly free and democratic society, political intervention in the Taiwanese media must come to an end. All the examples I have presented above have occurred in less than a year's time. The KMT have long understood that by controlling the media, they can control and sway public opinion on the island. Now that the KMT are back in control, they are pulling out all the stops and do not mind stepping on any or all of our democratic rights as free citizens of Taiwan. Taiwan's media is starting to look more and more like China's every day, and not in a good way. The people of Taiwan must speak out now while we still have the freedom to. Think about it, if today newspapers cannot write "suicide" (自殺), what's to say tomorrow they will be able to write "Taiwanese people" (臺灣人). At this rate, we'll probably have to replace it with "Chinese people" (中國人). The only thing that really needs replacing is Ma Ying Jeou and the KMT.