by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Neilpeart is god/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0
CONTROVERSY HAS broken out after recordings were leaked by New Power Party chair Chen Jiau-hua of what she claimed were comments leaked by former Mirror TV chair Pei Wei at a shareholders’ meeting in December.
In the recording, Pei claims that Premier Su Tseng-chang and President Tsai Ing-wen pressured the National Communications Commission (NCC) to approve Mirror Media’s broadcast license. Mirror Media plans to begin television broadcasting and would be the first approval of a news channel by the NCC in ten years, requiring more than two years of review.
For their part, Su and Tsai have denied ever intervening in the NCC’s approval process. Pei has stated that he intends to sue Mirror Media’s former chief financial officer, who he believes leaked the recording, and that the recording was edited so that the quotes were taken out of context. Former Mirror Media chair Chen Chien-ping claims to have the two-hour recording of the meeting that he would be willing to show it to prosecutors.
It may be unsurprising that the KMT has sought to attack the Tsai administration over the issue. The KMT has generally sought to frame any sort of regulatory action over television or radio by the Tsai administration in recent memory as a form of political persecution targeting the pan-Blue camp.
Such attacks began after Want Want Group-owned CtiTV did not have its broadcast license renewed by the NCC in November 2020. The NCC based this ruling on that CtiTV was fined 10.73 million NT for 21 violations of the law in the past six years, the most of any television station. More than five million fines took place in 2019.
Particularly egregious incidents included that in May 2019, CtiTV gave 70% of its airtime to coverage of its preferred presidential candidate, Han Kuo-yu. CtiTV also inflated the crowd count at Han’s mayoral inauguration, to create the perception that Han’s support was much larger than it actually was, claiming that 800,000 were in attendance at the inauguration. Another report claimed that an “auspicious cloud” shaped like a phoenix had appeared above an event attended by Han along with fellow KMT mayors Lu Shiow-yen and Hou You-yi.
After the decision, CtiTV moved to online streaming. The lurking issue at hand, however, is that CtiTV is a media outlet owned by the Want Want Group. Past reports by the Financial Times stated that Want Want Group-owned outlets were directly taking orders from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office in terms of what articles they ran and their editorial slant. Reports by the Apple Daily also stated that the Want Want Group received over 477 million Chinese yuan—just over 2 billion NTD—from the Chinese government between 2017 and 2018.
The KMT also accused efforts by the Tsai administration to block Taiwanese companies from acting as intermediaries of Chinese over-the-top providers as a form of political persecution. At the time, the Tsai administration emphasized that it was not blocking any content from Taiwan, just Taiwanese companies from acting as their intermediaries, because of its inability to regulate Chinese content.
The sensitivity of the issue is that some network operators, namely Dafeng Cable and Taiwan Broadband Communications, have applied to move pan-Blue TVBS from channels 55 to 149 or 158. Mirror TV would instead take up the slot that TVBS currently occupies.
The 55 channel slot is located among Taiwan’s other major news channels and so is coveted. The accusation, then, is that if TVBS is moved to a lesser-viewed slot in the 100s, this could be framed as the Tsai administration acting to benefit Mirror TV. Pei’s comments, then, would be seen as adding weight to the claim that the Tsai administration is acting behind the scenes to assist Mirror TV, with the view that relegating TVBS to a lesser viewed slot will help the pan-Green camp, when it should be impartial.
The NPP is not likely to win allies among many members of the pan-Green camp for revealing the recording, seeing as the party is already seen by many as backstabbing the DPP even at the benefit of the KMT. Either way, details are still unclear–Pei claiming to have the backing of Tsai and Su at a shareholders’ meeting during which he may hope to reassure shareholders is hardly proof of collusion in the absence of further evidence.
Yet it is probable that the pan-Blue camp will use his claim to attack the Tsai administration on this front. Other lawsuits that Mirror Media is embroiled in with pan-Blue candidates, such as the TPP’s Ann Kao, or the dispute between Formosa News’ radio host Clara Chou and KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Chiang Wan-an over his parentage and whether Chiang is genuinely a member of the Chiang family, will probably be seized on as part of these attacks.