The Case of Radio Taiwan International

(eTaiwan News)  Taiwan must not use China's news standards.  October 3, 2008.

The lightening decision of state-run Radio Taiwan International Chairman Cheng You, RTI President Shao Li-chung, RTI Deputy President Chang Cheng-lin and two board directors to resign Tuesday has cast a dark shadow over the commitment of the restored Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government to maintaining full news freedom in Taiwan.

The RTI chairman and four other colleagues on the 15-member board submitted their collective resignation in the wake of news reports that the KMT government, notably the Government Information Office, and KMT lawmakers had put intense pressure on Cheng and RTI management to change its news and programming management.

According to Taiwan media reports, GIO officials cited reports by the Guangzhou-based "Global Daily" (Huanqiu shibao), an internationally-directed subsidiary of the PRC's official "People's Daily," that "the independence faction controlled the voice of Taiwan to attack Ma Ying-jeou" and called on RTI management to "make improvements."

Cheng, a widely respected former journalist with the vernacular Commercial Times and ex-chairman of the Taiwan Television Network, has not been known for "pan-green" partisanship, stated that he had resigned with one year left in his contract because he had been "tagged with the colors of a particular political party and subjected to doubts of not endeavoring to propagate the new government's policies."

According to Taiwan media and RTI contributors, GIO claimed that RTI was an agency for "international broadcasting" and should "uphold the image of the Republic of China" and should also not be "too" critical of the Chinese Communist Party-ruled People's Republic of China, apparently in accordance with Ma's policy of promoting cross-strait "reconciliation" and his unilateral call for a "diplomatic truce" with Beijing.

Targets of criticism

The targets of the criticism included RTI talk show hosts, such as former "Contemporary Monthly" editor-in-chief Chin Heng-wei, whose shows have been critical of human rights and news freedom in the authoritarian PRC and Beijing's actions to isolate Taiwan form the global community.

The apparent demand by the KMT government that the RTI should not be critical of Beijing is highly ironic since its mission for decades has always been to criticize the PRC.

Under the KMT during the Cold War, the then Central Broadcasting System beamed anti-communist propaganda drafted by the scarcely less authoritarian KMT regime to the "bandit areas" governed by the Chinese Communist Party.

After the DPP took over government in May 2000, then CBC Chairwoman Chu Wan-ching fled Taiwan in advance of an indictment for embezzlement and the station was renamed "Radio International Taiwan" and transformed into an autonomously managed if still state-owned news media directed at audiences outside Taiwan without direct interference from the DPP government or the DPP party.

With objective news coverage of Taiwan and China and the world and programs highlighting Taiwan's democratization and progress in field such as human rights and cultural and social pluralism, RTI is now ranked as the second most popular Chinese language foreign -based broadcaster behind only the British Broadcasting Corporation.

GIO Minister Vanessa Shih has denied interference and declared that she has never told the RTI not to criticize China, but it is evident that the dramatic decision by Cheng and the other four RTI directors and executives aimed to expose some problem with the KMT government.

Protestations of innocence

Indeed, such protestations of innocence by the KMT government are belied by previous events, such as the "encouraged" resignation of former Cabinet deputy secretary-general Chen Mei-ling, the appointment of a clearly partisan management team for the state-run Central News Agency and numerous cases of direct or indirect interventions in news management by KMT party officials aimed at CNA reporters and editors.

The KMT camp must recall that it is the government of all of Taiwan's 23 million people, not just the 7.6 million who voted for Ma or KMT lawmakers, and is also not the local agents of the CCP regime and has no business imposing the CCP's standards of news media "unfreedom."

We do not believe that the interests of Taiwan will be served by a RTI whose programming and news coverage for the international community and the people on the China mainland reflects only one of our political parties and especially if its performance is judged based on whether it makes Beijing's authoritarian rulers happy.

It should be obvious that such a standard will not help RTI will maintain its currently high popularity among PRC listeners.

The best image and reality of Taiwan that the RTI should present is that of a democratic Taiwan which is governed by the KMT but also manifests the values of pluralism and tolerance and displays the complete spectrum of viewpoints in Taiwan's pluralistic and diverse society.

We therefore urge President Ma, Premier Liu and the GIO to offer a thorough and honest explanation of this incident, openly reaffirm an unambiguous commitment to uphold 100 percent news autonomy and professionalism in state-owned news media and display that commitment in action by appointing a non-partisan board of directors to RTI.

(  When An Anti-Communist Mouthpiece Meets A Pro-China Government  By Shen Yuzhe.  October 5, 2008.

[in translation]

<Global Times> has struck!  Is it hard to imagine that such a newspaper could accomplishment something this big?  The state radio broadcaster (Radio Taiwan International) of the Republic of China was criticized by <Global Times> in July this year for being a model of "Taiwan independence media."  <Global Times> not only characterized RTI as a public media which has been hijacked by Taiwan independence elements, but it was doubly intolerable for the state-owned national radio broadcaster to receive public funding from the government on one hand and to criticize the President for being useless just like the pro-'green' FTV, SETV and other private media on the other hand.

Of course, the impact of <Global Times> was not disclosed until after the mass resignation of the board of directors of Radio Taiwan International.  Under the dual pressures from both the mainland government and the Kuomintang legislators, the Ma Ying-jeou administration finally took action against this disobedient media.  Many Kuomintang legislators said proudly after hearing the news: "Radio Taiwan International is a propaganda tool to the outside, but it used state money to scold the state leader -- is this acceptable?"  Cooler pan-blue heads also argued: "State enterprises may have political missions in the past, but all that should stop after the May 20th election.  There is a transition in political regime, and people should know when to quit."  But nobody talks as tough as Kuomintang legislator Chu Yi: "These people lived off Chen Shui-bian during the past eight years and they are used to this way.  Now they are suddenly uncomfortable all over unless they get to say bad things to embarrass you.  Now they are twisting this into a political struggle.  I think that this is very embarrassing and truly shameless."

Even after the pan-blues returned as the ruling party, there are still people with a 'green' sheen existing inside government organizations.  This was sufficiently intolerable to the legislators who are keenly aware of the color distinction between 'blue' and 'green.'  Since Ma Ying-jeou is the president from the Kuomintang, how care the brain-dead 'green' camp dare to hurl invectives at him at will?  This is a naked political struggle!  Although the popularity of Ma Ying-jeou has tumbled down to about the same level as Chen Shui-bian's, the Kuomintang must hold their ground resolutely against the unpardonably wicked Democratic Progressive Party and protect their 'blue' president from criticisms by the brain-dead 'greens'.

Besides, the main theme between the two sides of the strait is harmony as the Communists and the Kuomintang are beginning to cooperate.  So how dare the state radio broadcaster of the Republic of China attack the Communists as well as its own government?  At such a moment, freedom of speech is no longer important and the priority is to regain control of this state-owned propaganda machine from the hands of a small number of people.

After the bans on political parties and private-owned media were rescinded in Taiwan, a great many private media rose up like shoots after the rain.  The mouthpiece function of the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International for the state and the Kuomintang was not longer necessary.  These media outlets are supposed to be returned to the state.  Radio Taiwan International, which had the mission of communicating to the bandit-occupied region, underwent re-organization many times.  In reviewing the history, Radio Taiwan International served an irreplaceable role for the two Chiangs with activities such as broadcasting the "decadent" songs of Teresa Teng and sending coded messages to spies on the mainland.

But the greatest glory occurred during the anti-Japan War of Resistance.  On August 15, 1945, Japan announced an unconditional surrender.  Chiang Kai-shek read the <Letter to the Army and the People of China and the Rest of the World about the Victory> on Central Radio Broadcasting.  Of course, this party/state mouthpiece spared no effort against Chiang Kai-shek's most reviled Communist bandits with periodic fake reports about the defeats suffered by the People's Liberation Army.  But after the nationalization of RTI, its mission underwent a change.  Recovery of the mainland became a historical term, and the call to liberate the suffering brethren on mainland China was replaced by slogans that promote the democracy in Taiwan.  When Chen Shui-bian became president, the call slogan was changed from "Radio Taiwan International -- the international voice from Taipei" to "Radio Taiwan International -- the voice from Taiwan" as localization kept pace with the times.

According to the information, Radio Taiwan International's global broadcasting program is transmitted all over the world via digital microwave.  Its transmission power is as much as 8750 KW, which is 2.26 times the sum of all the private radio broadcasters in Taiwan.  The reason for this astonishing investment in hardware is that mainland China has a wide area and the Beijing authorities deploy powerful electronic jamming.  People are aware that Voice of America and Radio Free Asia receive this special treatment, but Radio Taiwan International is just as much a thorn in the side of the mainland China.  In recent year, the Democratic Progressive Party brought on board many pro-'green' program hosts and Radio Taiwan International targeted Chinese dissidents with a platform to contact the outside world.  This mean the Beijing authorities more resolute to stop Radio Taiwan International.

In the above, there is a viewpoint that questioned whether it is alright to use public money to hurl invectives at the state leader?  Actually, the answer has already been provided in the movement to support Radio Hong Kong.  The so-called money from the state is ultimately taxpayers' money.  In a democratic system, the government serves to administer the state/society only on a temporary basis until the next election.  If the people are paying the bill, then why can't the state leader/government head be criticized?  Of course, any discussion of this serious subject needs to be free from interference such as the 'blue'/'green' politics.  In Taiwan, the battle over Radio Taiwan International will end up with the radio broadcaster being either 'blue' or 'green' and that is of no help whatsoever towards making the state media neutral.

The movement to support Radio Hong Kong is a spontaneously organized civilian effort to seek a transition of a government broadcasting service into a publicly funded but independent broadcasting service.  It requires the government to have a lot of courage to adopt this model.  Since the return of Hong Kong to China, many patriotic leftists have complained that Radio Hong Kong receives government funding on one hand but continues to criticize the government on the other hand.  Neither the British colonial government nor the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government could really let Radio Hong Kong be truly "independent."  This problem does not exist in mainland China, but it is the concrete manifestation of freedom of press that the media people of Hong Kong and Taiwan care about.  The point of contention is whether an official mouthpiece should be responsible to the taxpayers? Or compliant with the directives of the government to defend the government?  When a media receives public funding, must it become a propaganda tool for the government with no room for critical voices?

The movement to support Radio Hong Kong is still stuck in the debate whether it is a tool to defend the government or an independent media with freedom of press.  In Taiwan, the state-owned media are in a more complicated situation.  The Central News Agency is the official news agency of the Republic of China and Chen Shui-bian appointed the chief editor from a pro-independence newspapers to serve as the publisher in order to further the 'greening' of the media.  Other media such as Central Daily News, CTV, BOC and other media with the word "China" in their names were condemned as counter-revolutionaries by the ruling 'green' administration on account of their natural "Kuomintang genes" and suffered endless political pressures.  Yet people now know that the Kuomintang is no better than Chen Shui-bian.  Even though they did not openly interfere with press freedom, the various media bosses are getting better at sensing which way the wind is blowing.  If they cannot openly influence the media, they will do so secretly.

The personnel shake-up at Radio Taiwan International did not occur because of the criticisms against the government, but because they wanted to use Taiwan independence ideas to attack Taiwan.  This caused the Beijing authorities to wonder who is in charge at Radio Taiwan International.  On mainland China, it is inconceivable that a state-owned media could criticize current affairs and hurl invectives at the state leader.

When a government cannot control the media and it must also tolerate criticisms from privately owned media, then the state-controlled media's "second type of loyalty" becomes invaluable.  The rulers will always seek to control the flow of information based upon the political truism that news has no boundary but media have nationality.