If Government Kills a Media Company
By Wang Chien-chuang
United Daily News, October 18, 2020
Freedom and democracy may be wiped out overnight, such as when a war breaks out. Freedom and democracy may also be eroded bit by bit imperceptibly, for example, the democratically elected government exercises authoritarian rule but in the name of democracy. The freedom and democracy in Taiwan in recent years is a glaring example.
Take freedom of speech and freedom of the press as examples. These two basic rights are important indicators for testing freedom and democracy. Freedom of speech is an individual’s basic right. Freedom of the press is a basic right of an institutional nature. They are both indispensable elements in the constitutional democratic process. Even if the government does not regard them as holy cows, it cannot violate the two rights arbitrarily.
However, the Taiwanese people’s freedom of speech has been repeatedly violated by the government in recent years. The amendment of the five national security related laws and the enactment of the Anti-infiltration Law significantly reduced the space for the people’s freedom of expression in the field of political speech. The Social Order Maintenance Act for controlling fake news also had a chilling effect on the media’s freedom of expression. The legislators of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) recently proposed amendments to the law to penalize any political expression violating national identity and the conduct of waving the PRC flags, effectively listing symbolic freedom of expression as the target of arbitrary suppression by the government.
If President Tsai Ing-wen’s words "No one needs to apologize for his identity" were true to her heart, they should be manifested in policy and implemented in the law. Though the DPP may not have to regard the president’s words as a standard, how could its conducts and deeds run counter to the President’s political promise. Since people do not even need to apologize, why should they be punished by law? What is even more puzzling is that when the DPP members holding public offices broke her political promises bit by bit, why did President Tsai turn a blind eye? Democracy is in its name, but authoritarianism in fact. No wonder the former top aide of late President Lee Teng-hui, Su Chih-cheng, said on Lee’s behalf, "What the hell are you doing?"
Examples of the DPP's violation of press freedom are also beyond number. The National Communications Commission (NCC) goes beyond the scope of legal authorization and violates the principles of corporate governance in its interference in the appointment of the chairman of TVBS, and made things difficult for the appointment of general manager of CTI Television (CtiTV). Both are cases of retrogression in the freedom of the press. It is even more authoritarian now than the authoritarian era. The recent issue of CtiTV's renewal of license caused quite a stir and is even more of an ongoing case of government infringing on Taiwan's freedom of the press.
The license of a TV station is not perpetual grant. The government has the right to issue a license, and of course it has the right to withdraw it. However, withdrawing the license is like condemning the “death penalty” to a TV station. A judge’s sentence of death cannot be based on personal mental impression, let alone personal like or dislike. The government’s sentence to death of a TV station should of course be as discreet as a judge’s death sentence, it has to be prudent whether in fact recognition or in application of law. If you can let it go, you refrain from “death penalty.”
CtiTV’s professional performance in the past few years has been questioned, criticized, and censured. It has taken the deserved blame. However, if the government conducts political censorship on CtiTV’s professional performance instead of refraining from control of speech or ideological content, then this is the government’s "content-based control" on the media. Political censorship as such is of course a serious infringement on press freedom.
However, judging from the eight major issues of the CtiTV’s license renewal hearings drafted by the NCC, it is clear that the government has had its inner conviction regarding the renewal of the license, and the NCC has clearly determined that the contents of its news are sufficient evidence for “death penalty.” Among the eight major issues, the renewal of the license is linked to the national security concern, and it can be seen that the NCC believes that CtiTV is suspected of being a pro-China red media. Even if the person in charge of CtiTV did everything possible to prove its innocence at the hearing, the grim destiny would not be changed. It is like the “Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee” holding hearings, and in the end, not a single KMT and affiliated organization could escape from being deprived of its assets. The hearings organized by the Committee and the NCC are actually just a show and the results are fait accompli.
Even more revealing evidence that puts the NCC hearing in doubt is the leaked confidential documents from the Presidential Hall, referring to two scholars as being able to “cooperate in handling the CtiTV case.” The NCC has seven committee members, the two committee members presiding over the CtiTV’s license renewal hearing happen to be the two scholars referred to in the leaked document. Is this a coincidence? These two academic committee members may not have to avoid the review of the renewal of licenses, but they can certainly avoid presiding over the hearing of the renewal of license, however, they choose not to. Are such NCC and such academic committee not too blatant?
If the DPP shuts down a TV media due to political censorship, from now on President Tsai and Premier Su Tseng-chang should shut up and not to talk about Taiwan’s freedom of the speech and press, because they are not only killing a media, but also Taiwan’s freedom and democracy.
The author is a visiting professor at Shih Hsin University in Taipei.