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Stained Red
China Infiltrates Taiwanese Media

Taiwan's media is riddled with ads from the government of China, masquerading as news. Pan-blue or pro-green, Taiwanese news outlets are increasingly being painted red. Is the island's independent perspective for sale too?
 

Photos: Domingo Chung

Phenomenon No. 1:

On Aug. 2 last year Mei Kebao, deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Hunan Provincial Committee, arrived in Taiwan with a large delegation to participate in "Hunan Week 2010," a promotional event to boost exchanges between Hunan Province and Taiwan. That same day the Chinese-language China Times splashed the story titled "CPC Hunan Provincial Committee Chairman Mei Kebao and Delegation Arrive in Taiwan" across the front page of its China section. The headline of another major daily, the United Daily News, screamed "Hunan Week Is Here, A Golden Horde of 400 Flock to Taiwan." On Aug. 3 both newspapers awarded full-page coverage to the event.

These apparent "news" reports were actually advertorials that the Chinese government placed in Taiwan's media for money, yet they were not labeled for readers as paid content.

Wu Feng-shan, a member of Taiwan's top government watchdog, the Control Yuan, and a former media executive, is the one who exposed Beijing's involvement. As evidence Wu presents a secret document which states: Want Want China Times Culture Media Company (Beijing) commissions the United Daily News to create publicity through an article series and exclusive interviews on Hunan Province for a payment of NT$810,000 by the China Times. The deal is being treated as a "trade secret, not to be disclosed."

Phenomenon No. 2:

The Chinese government's suppression and blocking of online media reporting has begun to spread to the online presence of Taiwanese media in China. When Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was announced as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on October 8 last year, the United Daily News reacted with massive coverage. More than 20 articles about Liu and his fight for human rights in China filled the paper's first three pages. On Oct. 10 the paper still followed up on the topic with articles featured prominently on page two of the first section, incurring the wrath of the Chinese government.

Consequently, the paper's online version udn.com was shut down in China on Nov. 11. "That's China's way of warning you, of forcing you to declare where you stand," comments a longtime observer of Chinese media controls. It is hard to estimate how angering Beijing will backfire.

Phenomenon No. 3:

Reporters on cross-strait affairs are no longer professional or independent. Talking about his reporting experiences in China, a Taiwanese journalist posted in Beijing tells CommonWealth Magazine with barely contained anger that he lost his "professional pride" long ago.

"Now all the newspapers have commercial relations with China. The reporters working out of Beijing don't yet need to help solicit business, but we need to passively maintain relations with the Taiwan Affairs Office. We definitely can't assign blame, or challenge or question (the Chinese government)," the reporter laments.

Money has become a weapon to silence defiant media, and journalists engage in self-censorship for fear of upsetting Chinese authorities. "Slowly, 'little cops' have taken control of our minds'," the reporter contends.

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