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.


At 12:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely done, man.. Keep speaking the truth!!

At 4:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ma Ying Jeou is so ignorant,it's so funny to play word games.
I totally agree your last sentence
"The only thing that really needs replacing is Ma Ying Jeou and the KMT."

At 5:38 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yesterday I was discussing with my brother, how everything since Ma's inauguration needs to be protested. We have had to protest for our sovergnity, food safty, economy, referendum, freedom of speech as you've mentioned, labor loan interests, resident's air quality, taking money out of people's post-office saving, the re-naming of CKS temple etc, and most recently, spending voutures that pretty much sooth people's souls like drugs. In the past we stand firm on freedom and discuss about responsibility that comes with it. Right now we are fighting for the most basic human rights of modern era. How much worse could this be?

At 4:45 PM , Blogger Victor said...

stumbled into your blogspot. keep it up. taiwan needs more people like you. don't lose heart.

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At 1:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,

I very much admire your love and passion for our home Taiwan and we Taiwanese people.

I must say however, that when i read your comments, I cannot but feel that you are doing the very same thing that you are accusing the "blue-leaning" Taiwanese. You claim that they are "ignorant" and this is a result of a KMT-dominated media under a government that suppresses free speech. This kind of rhetoric can be found everywhere in the world. That the "opponent" is ignorant is certainly something we see said in the US too. If i had a dime for each time I've heard the Democrats and Republicans accuse each other of being ignorant, i'd be a millionaire. If i had a dime for each time they'd accuse each other for being "unpatriotic", heck, i'd be even richer.

My point: there is mid-ground. I'm Taiwanese and I'm "pan-blue", but I love Taiwan. I don't consider this a result of being "brainwashed"... You rightly point to many historical incidents, which are sadly true. These historical tragedies continue to hurt Taiwan and they are from an unfortunate legacy from an undemocratic system and authoritative leaders that was the norm in East Asia at that time.

However, to put things into perspective, every country on this world are and have been on a different point on the continuum toward freedom and political rights. Taiwan, as with many east asian countries, took longer (consider S. Korea and Taiwan democratization process, and Singapore that is arguably still lagging behind).

It's easy to judge a past era with lens from today and consider it ridiculous. For about 10 years (1947-1957), the US had the "Red Scare" --- which seems unimaginable from today's perspective. That happened because there was a perceived and genuine threat of communism. Then up until the 60's, African-Americans didn't even have the rights to vote... and even earlier , they couldn't even get on a god damn bus... all of this, in a country that is supposedly founded on universal freedom and rights. Yet today, the US has its first elected black president... that it's the first time in 250 years of history is a problem in itself, but they've come a long way and that's pretty f*ckin' awesome! :) My point, the US government today isn't the same one from yesteryears. The same is true for Taiwan's KMT (or any government or political party in the world --- the current Japanese government surely isn't the same one that started the Pacific War; and surely the Tsai-led DPP today isn't the same Chen-led DPP).

At 1:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, what troubles me is your rhetoric is so one-sided. You say media is KMT-controled... If so, what is "Minshi", or "Sanli", or Liberty Times? What are they KMT backed too? That you can openly protest a PRC official *in Taiwan*, is that another example of your liberties being stripped?

You claim that KMT did no good during its rule of Taiwan over the past century. I guess you can blame the KMT for the Economic Miracle that happened too. And boy wouldn't it have been great if there were no KMT at all? Sure, that'd be good in some ways I suppose, but then the CCP could take over since nobody was defending Taiwan, which I think would be the greatest of all evils.

There's a lot of history that I think you know about, but I think there's a lot you also don't seem to care much about (or are simply unaware of). This tends to create extreme views and that is what I've seen from you thus far --- which is a pity since you're clearly a very intelligent fellow.

The Pan-Green and Pan-Blue all love Taiwan. No Pan Blue wants to "sell out" Taiwan. They simply value their Chinese culture heritage --- but that doesn't have to conflict with their Taiwanese identity. You're American, but you're Taiwanese, too. Many of the Pan-Blue simply value their Chinese-roots... is that such a sin that must be branded "selling out" Taiwan? Did you sell out the US by becoming a Taiwanese? I highly doubt it. Also, most Pan-Blue will agree with the "one country, one side" argument, except one is ROC and one is PRC. Now don't get upset at this statement --- I'm sure you know in democratic systems, respecting the other perspective is the norm. I'm sure you get it.

So, if the world can have North Korea and South Korea, and the previous E/W Germany, then why can't the world have a Taiwan/China (or ROC/PRC)? We all came from the same place. Oh you may have heard of the historical period of the "Three Kingdoms", well, three independent sovereign states --- but guess what? They were three Chinese regimes... So really there is nothing new here.

Separatists --- no disrespect intended --- tend to amplify the differences (e.g., Quebec)... and i have no problems with that. Because are those differences really there? You bet. But, is there commonality? Yes there is. And where you stand is all about perspective, personal experience (often times passed down from earlier generations), and well, as you said what the politicians are saying to the people. If the KMT succeeded in "brainwashing" the Taiwanese regarding their Taiwanese heritage, well, I'd say the DPP (and the green-leaning media) has been equally capable of "brainwashing" many to view their Chinese roots as evil, shameful, and backward. And whether you agree or disagree, to a certain extent, much of this is just political campaigning... and you bet, they're politically charged and motived, and neither the KMT or DPP are angels here.

You're a smart guy and I wish you the best in your championing the Taiwanese cause. If you can accept that Pan-Green and Pan-Blue all love Taiwan but there is just a difference in perspective on issues (like a true democracy should), then i feel your blog and your comments will feel much less like a FOX News commentary.

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