The List of Protests Against Ma Just Grows and Grows; Is There Anyone That Has Not Spoken Up

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Wednesday December 17, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The list of complaints against Ma Ying-jeou has become so numerous that one hesitates to add another. For those who know Ma, it is reality finally surfacing. Ma never had an image of Mr. Clean; those on the inside have always seen through that from Ma's days as a student spy. Now, Reporters Without Borders (RWP) has spoken out on how President Ma Ying-jeou is not keeping his promises to respect public media independence. In response, Ma had written in a letter to its secretary-general Jean-Fran蔞is Julliard, "We believe that accusations of this administration's interference in Taiwan's media are based on some wrong information or misunderstandings." But despite such denials the organisation continues to get disturbing reports of the ruling Kuomintang party decisions undermining the independence of the public media.

RWP stated "Taiwan should be a press freedom model in Asia and the independence of the public media is one of the key components of a free and diverse press system, We want to believe in President Ma's promises but they must be translated into action." It continued,: "We are aware that political pressure on the public media is not new and existed under the previous government but it is vital that, regardless of political party debate, the media should have a favourable legislative and political environment. We urge the president to order a probe into the various accusations of meddling and to set up mechanisms that guarantee media independence."

Though Ma had stated, we "will never attempt to control or interfere in the activities of the media." Reality was different. That is why Julliard had written President Ma Ying-jeou and requested an explanation for recent cases of political pressure on the state media, above all on Radio Taiwan International (RTI) and the Central News Agency (CNA). Julliard wrote: "Reporters Without Borders has been told that some officials used to be in the habit of calling journalists to ask them to rewrite stories. Nowadays, officials try to exert a more general control by appointing leading government supporters to run them."

The chairman and some ten other senior members of the Public Television Service Foundation (PTSF) - which oversees the Public Television Service (PTS), Hakka Television, Indigenous Television and China Television Service - issued a statement on 10 December condemning the ruling Kuomintang's attempts to control these media and calling for their independence to be guaranteed.

The KMT's campaign to reaffirm its influence over the public TV stations seems to have strengthened since parliament's decision to freeze half of the PTSF's budget. At the same time, two parliamentary committees decided that the programming of Hakka Television, Taiwan Macroview Television and Indigenous Television should be subject to review by the entities concerned by their content. The Kuomintang legislators within this committee also called for the TPBS (Taiwan Broadcasting System or Public Television Service) budget to be conditioned on agreement with the Government Information Office (GIO) about content.

Influential Kuomintang lawmakers also proposed amending the public television law without a view to having a supervisory council controlled by the ruling party. According to several sources, legislator Lin Yi-shih said he would like to get rid of the outspoken "PTS News Talk" show.

The Taiwan Legislative Yuan, in which the KMT has a majority, decided in October to conveniently appoint six new members to the PTS's supervisory board.

After Ma's election, RTI's chairman resigned in protest against GIO interference. CNA deputy editor-in-chief Chuang Feng-chia also resigned after condemning internal censorship on various subjects, including the president of China. He told Reporters Without Borders that the news agency "belongs to the country and not the Kuomintang." This was a few days after President Ma's campaign director was appointed as the CNA's deputy chairman.

Despite the evidence, the head of the GIO's International Information Department, Manfred Peng, denied any interference and accused the RTI and CNA officials of manipulating their reasons for resigning. He insisted that the GIO just conveyed listener comments to RTI's management without issuing any directives about content.

Chen Hsiao-yi of the Association of Taiwan Journalists told Reporters Without Borders that "interference has always existed and the parties always tend to put their friends in positions at the head of the state media."

RTI and CNA were in the past all directly controlled by the Kuomintang but, under President Lee Teng-hui (1988-2000), the state media were granted editorial independence and their funding was guaranteed as part of the GIO's budget. Article 11 of the public television law says that public television "belongs to all citizens and its operations must be independent. These abuses have become so numerous that people now take them as the norm, not the exception.