KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — The Kuomintang's (KMT) response to the announcement yesterday that the pro-China CTi News (中天新聞) network has been denied a new license to broadcast in Taiwan was depressingly predictable.
No sooner had the decision been announced than it was fashioned into an attack on the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration, which is apparently “undermining press freedom” by making an allegedly political decision.
No doubt the online memes and outraged videos are already flying around the pro-China Facebook and LINE groups where Taiwan’s elderly, KMT-voting minority get their news when not tuned in to CTi.
As with most of the content in these groups (and indeed on CTi News), there is little factual basis in such claims and by echoing them, the KMT is doing yet further harm to its already battered reputation.
But it is important to be clear about precisely what facts are behind this decision because no free and democratic country should remove the license for a national media outlet lightly.
A factual decision
The first key point to make is that this was not a political decision, and it was not taken by President Tsai, her Cabinet, or any other DPP officials.
The decision to deny the license renewal application was made by Taiwan’s National Communication Commission (NCC). The NCC was the first regulator in Taiwan to become wholly independent from any branch of the Cabinet.
It makes independent decisions and is not required to take any political loyalties into consideration in the decisions that it makes.
A look at NCC Chairman Chen Yaw-shyang's (陳耀祥) statement yesterday made it clear this was very much the case in this decision. Over the past six years, the regulator has fined CTi News’ parent company, Want Want China Times Group, on 21 separate occasions for breaching the rules.
The most infamous of these many violations was perhaps during the infamous Kaohsiung mayoral election of 2018, when an NCC survey found that CTi News had dedicated 70 percent of its coverage to promoting future recalled KMT mayor and failed Presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
Two of the NCC commissioners stressed that the decision was taken due to repeated violations and that neither CTi News nor Want Want had shown any inclination to make the requested changes in order to be compliant moving forward.
In other words, the NCC felt CTi would continue to break the rules and pay the fines rather than try to follow the regulations the NCC has to enforce. This was the principal reason for making the decision that they did.
A threat to national security
This was not all. Chen has subsequently stated that the chair of Want Want, Tsai Eng-men (蔡衍明), was directly interfering in CTi's news production.
Such interference is also against the rules. But it matters for far deeper reasons than that.
Just over a year ago, Tsai Eng-men was one of a number of pro-CCP Taiwanese media officials who attended the so-called 4th Cross-Straits Media Summit in Beijing — an event where CCP officials openly discussed how they could use their media outlets to promote unification with Taiwan.
What was effectively implied is that the pro-CCP head of Want Want takes orders from Beijing and interferes with the output of CTi News to ensure that these orders are being followed.
It is an astonishing accusation for a regulator to level at a broadcaster and an individual. But anyone who has had the misfortune of watching some of CTi’s content will be far from surprised.
Its programs have been among the most partisan of anything you will see in Taiwan or anywhere else for that matter. At times, CTi News would have made even Xinhua or the People’s Daily blush!
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press matters a lot in Taiwan. It is one of the cornerstones of our society and one of the things every anti-unification advocate is fighting for.
But there has to be a line drawn somewhere between the right to freedom of expression and the right to broadcast flagrant lies, fake news, and propaganda on behalf of the greatest threat to Taiwan’s national security.
Even the staunchest KMT advocate would struggle to argue that CTi has strayed onto the wrong side of that line on numerous occasions. This decision has been a long time coming and, frankly, it is long overdue.
There are a number of newspapers and TV networks that should now be giving themselves a long, hard look in light of this decision. And if they do, Taiwan’s media landscape will be in a far healthier state as a result.