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Taiwan: Who Misled Noam Chomsky?

Chomsky's support for the anti-media monopoly campaign in Taiwan has been reported as being misled by activists. [Public domain photo]

Chomsky's support for the anti-media monopoly campaign in Taiwan has been reported as being misled by activists. [Public domain photo]

The photo above, in which Noam Chomsky is holding a placard, is part of a global campaign organized by Taiwanese students against media monopoly in Taiwan. Chomsky's photo has been circulated widely via online social media since early January 2013. However, a number of news outlets recently reported that he was misled by Taiwanese anti-media monopoly activists into supporting the campaign. What has exactly happened? Who misled Chomsky?

In the past few days, a number of mainstream media outlets run by the Want Want China Times Group in Taiwan reported that Chomsky was misled by a young Taiwanese female student, Lin Ting-An. Below is a list of translated headlines:

1. Chomsky: If I knew the campaign is against China, I would not have held the placard [zh] – China Times 04﹣02﹣2013
2. Anti-media monopoly became anti-China campaign, Chomsky was set up [zh] – China Times 29-01-2013
3. Misled to hold the placard, Chomsky: This is serious distortion [zh] – China Times 28-01-2013

In addition to the newspapers, the Citi TV channel, also controlled by Want Want China, ran a one-hour news commentary program on January 29 and 30, 2013 to “clarify” Chomsky's position. The program accused Lin Ting-An, who invited Chomsky to hold the placard, of misleading and using the famous linguist, “the conscience of the U.S”. The commentators in the program also criticized the strategy of the media monopoly movement for singling out pro-China capital, namely Want Want China Times, for its campaign. Below is a short clip of a Citi TV interview with Chomsky:

The media reports were triggered by email communications between Macau based media professor Shih-Diing Liu and Chomsky in which Liu explained his understanding of the anti-media monopoly movement in Taiwan on January 27 2013:

However, I am unsure if you have realized that this anti-media monopoly movement, with its high level of participation among young people, cannot be understood as a simply a movement seeking freedom of the press and democracy on the island. The participants, speakers, and interveners (including the mainstream media, scholars, and groups who have followed along and appropriated the issue) not only focus on the issue of media resources being monopolized by capitalists but also point toward an enemy. This enemy happens to be the one that the government of your country has been cautiously dealing with. However, in the context of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, using the name of “defending Taiwan” to refuse, oppose, and reject all people and matters relating to China and the Chinese government is not an isolated phenomenon, and it needs to be placed in the hegemonic structure led by the United States that you have described so we can fully understand it. The slogan in your hands should also be interpreted in a specific political context.

In response to Liu's long email Chomsky wrote a brief reply which was quoted and made public by Liu in his Facebook:

Thanks for the interesting comments, which go far beyond anything I know about. I also don’t recall a placard referring to “Chinese manipulation.” What I was shown, and held, didn’t go beyond media monopoly and freedom of press. I hope that interpretations don’t go beyond that.

Attached to Chomsky's reply is Liu's rather lengthly interpretation which was picked up by China Times on its January 28 news report and turned into a news and commentary framework among Want Want China Times’ media outlets for use against the anti-media monopoly campaign. Liu interpreted Chomsky's photo as “abduction”:

[...]如果人家喬姆斯基並不知道此一訴求,你把人家“綁架”來舉個牌子迎合你自己的立場需求,是不是也太不尊重對方了?為什麽不充分告知人家你們真正的反對中國的立場呢?為什麼牌子上,只有”反對媒體壟斷”有英文翻譯呢?你反中國的立場大可以明白表示,讓對方清楚認知考慮後再表態,不需要遮遮掩掩。是否因為怕喬老要是知道了這個立場,未必會表態支持,索性就模糊其辭,就不得而知了。但如果喬老人家根本就不知道你運動所包括的反中訴求,就把人家趕鴨子上架,這樣的做法,未免也太缺乏政治技巧了吧![...]

[…]If Chomsky did not know about this demand [anti-China factor], you have “abducted” him by asking him to hold a placard that expressed your own position. Isn't this rather disrespectful? Why didn't you explain clearly your anti-China position to him? Why was the only English translation the slogan “anti-media monopoly”? Why do you have to cover this up and not let him know your anti-China position? Are you afraid that if Chomsky knew the position, he would not have shown his support? That's why the slogan has been blurred? Of course we don't know the real intention. But if Chomsky did not know there is an anti-China factor in your movement and you placed him in the duck's window display [meaning abduction], your political tactic is very poor!

他所認定和支持的立場,針對的是反對媒體壟斷和媒體新聞自由。喬老並不希望外界的解讀,踰越這個範疇,或加油添醋。 問題是,台灣部分反中人士和媒體,卻綁架他來為自己的立場掩護。每個運動都有自己的立場訴求,但為自己的立場訴求辯護手段要經得起檢驗,要用道理說服人。

按此理解,如果喬姆斯基當時不是被誤導、被糊弄,就不知道怎麽回事了。那些要求他舉牌的,自己應當最清楚。人家顯然沒有被告知完整訊息,就被硬扯進來為你們自己的立場背書。你們這種暗渡陳倉、移花接木的做法,和你們口口聲聲所反對的言論壟斷和扭曲,有什麼兩樣?你們不就是打着”反壟斷”的正義旗幟,做相反的事嗎?

What he knew and supported was against media monopoly and supported media and press freedom. He doesn't want people to misinterpret and add “other favors” to his position. The issue at stake is, some anti-China people and media have abducted him to strengthen their position. Every movement has their own stand but they have to establish their position with valid means and reason.

According to such understanding, I don't know what would have happened if Chomsky had not been misled or fooled. Those who asked him to hold the placard should know exactly what had happened. It is obvious that he had not been told the compete message and been dragged to support your position. The way the messages have been hidden and transplanted is as bad as the kind of distortion and monopoly that you criticize. Under the flag of “anti-monopoly”, you are doing the opposite.

To clarify the situation, Lin Ting-An posted her email communication to Chomsky in her Facebook. The email, inviting Chomsky to join the campaign, explained in detail the background of the campaign against Pro-China media group Want Want China Times’ acquisition of Next Media, with the translation of the placard slogans:

Here is now a horrible media monopoly event happening in Taiwan: The Pro-China Want Want China Times Group chairman, Tsia Eng-meng, is going to buy the Taiwanese branch of Next Media (which was owned by Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai). If this purchase is approved, Mr. Tsai will control about 46% of Taiwan's newspaper market. Mr. Tsai not only owns the newspaper (China Times, Commercial Times), but also the magazine, TV channel, and cable TV service, and his turning a blind eye to Beijing's human rights violations (He denies the Tiananmen square massacre) make us become really worried about the future of Taiwanese media.

In order to against this purchase and the government ignorance, Taiwanese students have launched several protests since November and will hold another one on New Year's Eve. There is now an activity which urges global supporters to photograph themselves, holding the slogan of “Oppose Media Monopoly, Reject the black hand of China, uphold freedom of the press, I protect Taiwan in ___”, and upload it online. (I attached my photo which took at Yang Ming university, Taiwan.)

Although Chomsky has further clarified that he had not been misled by anyone and the incident was a “misunderstanding”, his statement has not had much bearing on the major media outlets.

The debate about whether or not the China Factor should be stressed in the anti-media monopoly campaign has been a debate within the movement since day one. On the one hand, activists are aware that the media liberalization policy since the 1990s has been the driving force of the capital monopoly of Taiwan mainstream media. On the other hand, the influence of mainland China capital, as well as its political agenda to take control of Taiwanese media corporations, has become more and more obvious in the Want Want China Times’ acquisition of TV Cable Network and Taiwan Next Media. Similar debates have been going on among activists for months. After the Chomsky incident, in the anti-Want Want China Times campaign page, Jiangeng Chiou raised the issue [zh] again:

我想我們應該更認真地討論「反媒體壟斷」是否該和「反中國黑手」拖勾。這波反壟斷運動已經引起大眾的廣泛注意,是個推動媒體改革的很好的契機,如果只是勾起藍綠意識和統獨議題,對於更廣的媒體問題幫助不大,非常可惜。看看公視問題,台灣有好的媒體人,受到不只中國還有其他政治和財團力量狹持。反中國黑手的同時,何不連其他政治黑手,財團黑手全部一起反一反?

I think we should discuss if the “anti-media monopoly” should go hand -n-hand with “anti-China manipulation”. Currently the anti-media monopoly has attracted the public attention and it is a golden opportunity to campaign for media reform. The blue vs green and unification vs. independence sentiment is not helping the campaign. Let's take a look at the problem faced by Taiwan Public Television Service, the pressure faced by media workers in Taiwan not only comes from China, but also other political clans and capital. Apart from China, we have to confront other political and corporate forces.

In a comment Charlene Delerk replied:

關鍵是現在想操控台灣媒體的,正是中國政府,而台灣某些特定人士則做為其手套.討論”要不要拿掉中國政府因素',那就正中了中國政府的下懷,因為支持者已經在這個問題點上內亂分化了.其實這事幾個月前就討論過了,現在還跟著中天起舞,拿出來炒冷飯,真的是都餿了.喜歡中國的就去中國,沒人攔著

The key is China government wants to manipulate Taiwanese media. Some people who have occupied special positions have become their groves [covering their black hands]. The discussion of whether or not we should delete China factor in the campaign is serving their purpose of dividing our supporters. This issue has been discussed some months ago, now people are still dancing with CitiTV and re-firing the rice that is also sour [meaning turning outdated news into news]. If they like China so much, they can go to China, no one stops them.

For those who are outside Taiwan, it is very difficult to understand the political dynamic and it seems rather inevitable that Chomsky be misled and distorted in such a media and political environment.

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