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Taiwan: Smear Campaign Sparks Historic Media Monopoly Protest

A smear campaign against Taiwanese scholar Huang Kuo-chang by Want Want China Time's (WWCT) [zh] media outlets, in reaction to his opposition of the group's acquisition of a television cable network back in July 2012, has triggered intense public outrage in Taiwan.

More than 9,000 students and journalists demonstrated together against media monopoly on September 1. The mobilization is the largest addressing media reform in Taiwanese history.

Smear campaign

In addition to the controversy over the cable network acquisition, many scholars have also questioned WWCT owner Tsai Eng-Meng‘s style in running media organizations; he has made public claims that “the June 4 Massacre reports are incorrect“, fired the chief editor [of China Times] who was critical of Communist China government officials [zh], and sells column inches  in his media outlets to the mainland Chinese government.

Media smear sparks largest media reform campaign in Taiwanese history. Photos taken by You Hai-xiang from vita.tw

Media smear sparks largest media reform campaign in Taiwanese history. Photos taken by You Hai-xiang from vita.tw

On July 25, when NCC was reviewing the WWCT application, Huang Kuo-chang – among a dozen other scholars – protested outside its offices demanding they to turn down the application. They left at 10:30am but at 3pm a group of so-called students with masks on their faces, arrived at Taiwan media regulator the National Communications Commission (NCC) to also protest.

WWCT photographers took some photos showing a woman distributing money to the protest “students”. The photos were published the next day, in the Times Weekly's front page story [zh], ‘Huang Kuo-chang headed anti-Want Want China Times protest, the demonstrators were paid. With whose money?'.

All major WWCT media outlets then opened fire at Huang. Even though Huang Kuo-chang clarified the situation in a press conference [zh] and the woman who distributed the money also confirmed [zh] that Huang did not paid the students, WWCT's six media outlets continued smearing Huang [zh] in the news, editorials and talk shows.

A netizen with sharp eyes found out that the Deputy Chief of Times Weekly, Lin Chao-xin, was among the “student” protestors [zh] and distributed a screenshot online, which was reposted by a student from National Tsinghua Universy, Chen Wei-ting, with a question asking if WWCT were directing the protest behind the scenes.

WWCT's TV outlet revealed Chen's personal details to the public and accused him of creating fake evidence against Lin Chao-xin [zh].

Opinion leaders speak out

Outraged by the smear campaign, newspaper columnist Chang Chuan-fen wrote [zh] a long article on her Facebook:

旺中集團追殺黃國昌的做法,大有殺雞儆猴之意。他就是故意做得過火,以傳遞『順我者昌,逆我者亡』的訊息給所有反對者,不是嗎?報紙、電視加狗仔,抹黑、圍剿加騷擾,這就是媒體黑道在展示火力,不是嗎?

Want Want China Times tried to set an example by smearing Huang Kuo-chang to intimidate others. That's why it crosses the line so as to deliver the message that those who were against it would vanish. Newspaper, TV and paparazzi joined force to attack and harass, this is power of media mafia, isn't it?

A huge "Media Monster" banner hung outside WWCT's headquarter during the September 1 protest. Photo by Lenin Chang on Facebook.

A huge “Media Monster” banner hung outside WWCT's headquarter during the September 1 protest. Photo by Lenin Chang on Facebook.

Director Wang Hsiao-ti [zh] called for a boycott of WWCT with his ‘You are so big and I am scared‘ action on Facebook. Famous writer Chang Ta-chuen [zh] expressed his ultimate disappointment [zh] and closed his blog in the China Times Electronic News, followed by scholar Ke Yufen [zh], music critic Ma Shifang [zh], and director Hung Hung [zh].

In addition, scholar Chen Fang-ming, writer Chen Sumi [zh], and music critic Chiao Yuanpu [zh] also closed their columns in WWCT's media outlets. Chen Fang-ming said [zh]:

中時集團背後的老闆,無論他是傾中或親中,無論他是賺名或賺利,並不是關鍵問題。當報紙連續兩天以社論針對學者與學生進行圍剿時,就已經違背言論自由的立場。

I don't care if the China Times’ boss is pro-China or famous or wealthy. All these are not the real issue. But when a newspaper attacked a scholar and a student for two consecutive days, it has betrayed the principle of free speech.

A number of singers expressed their opinion. Lin Yoga [zh] invited his fans to reflect upon the issues raised by the ‘You are so Big and I am scared’ campaign. Deserts Chang urged in her concert:

新聞自由跟資訊文化的這東西就是不能用錢被買的。

Please stop Tsai Eng-Meng from purchasing more media companies… Press and information freedom could not be sold.

Online mobilization against media giant

The Youth Coalition Against Media Giant [zh] was set up by students from 28 universities and it organized a demonstration against WWCT on July 31. Even though Typhoon Saola was approaching on that day, around 700 students showed up outside the headquarter of WWTC with slogans – “unprofessional media, go back to the food industry [zh]“, “defend news freedom against media giants”, “defend freedom of speech against chilling effect”.

Yet, among seven cable TV news channel, four of them ignored the news. Journalism scholar Benla Kuang urged media workers to be brave.

"I am a student and I am against Want Want China Times" - July 31 protest mobilization banner at Youth Coalition against Media Giant.

“I am a student and I am against Want Want China Times” – July 31 protest mobilization banner at Youth Coalition against Media Giant.

Within WWCT, there is some dissent. The Deputy Chief Editor of China Times, Ho Jungshin, revealed in his blog [zh]:

為了爭取專業自主,我和部分中時同事(包括部分中時高層)乃至幾位關心中時發展人士都做了很多努力⋯⋯由於上述體制內改革行動已產生後座力,為了避免波及同事,我立即送出書面辭呈。

In order to strive for professional independence, a number of colleague including myself have tried very hard… But there is some backfiring and in order to prevent other colleagues from taking the consequences, I have submitted my resignation letter.

Ho is the founding chairperson of the Taiwan Journalist Association. His resignation indicates the failure of internal reforms and a number of journalists followed his move [zh]. Another China Times journalist who resigned, You Wan-chi, published [zh] her diary online:

今天我選擇離開,主因除了黃國昌走路工狠狠踩到我紅線外,我進中時才一年多,當我對這份報社的失望大過於期待、情感大過於傷害,即使薪水可以就此多十倍,說真的,我依然找不到半點理由,足以說服自己留下來。

Today I choose to leave mainly because the way how they smeared Huang Guo-chang has crossed my line. I worked in China Times for more than one year, the disappointment and emotional stress has been excessive. Even though the salary is a dozen more times higher than other media outlets, I could not find any reason for me to stay.

September 1 anti-media monopoly protest

Parent groups launched a petition against media bullying of students,’Family members united against the hegemony of Want Want China Times [zh]‘. Journalist students co-signed a statement that they will refuse working for Want Want China Times. The Youth Coalition Against Media Giant urged consumers stop buying from Want Want and the Taiwan Journalist Association called for a protest against media monopoly on September 1.

9,000 people participated in the September 1 rally against media monopoly in Taiwan. Photo by Hung Yiu-nan on Facebook.

9,000 people participated in the September 1 rally against media monopoly in Taiwan. Photo by Hung Yiu-nan on Facebook.

More than 9,000 people joined the September 1 rally. The protestors are mainly media workers, students and members of civic groups. They demonstrated outside the headquarter of the WWCT and rallied to NCC demanding Tsai Eng-ming to resign from all media management position. They also called for professional journalistic practice and an anti-media monopoly law. This is the biggest media reform demonstration in Taiwanese history.

Professor Chang Jin-hua from the Center of Journalism and Communication, National Taiwan University stressed [zh]:

我們要大聲要求NCC要維護民主多元,要保障專業自主權,要悍衛新聞自由,你們不是財團的工具,不是黨政高層的白手套。有線電視集中度愈來愈高,損傷新聞自由、記者工作權,NCC未提出有效對策,縱容業者坐大,NCC應儘快制定反媒體壟斷法。

We demand NCC to defend a democracy that protect diversity, journalistic autonomy and press freedom. You are not corporates and political parties’ tools. The monopoly of the cable network would destroy press freedom and media workers’ rights. So far NCC has not figured out any strategy to deal with the situation. Instead it allows the media giant [WWCT] to grow. The NCC should introduce an anti-media monopoly law.

Yet after the September 1 protest, the NCC still refused to change in its decision on WWCT's acquisition of China Network System. The flames of fury continue to spread.

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