by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Toomore Chiang/WikiCommons/CC BY 2.0

AFTER A NEWS report from the Liberty Times, the National Communications Commission (NCC) is investigating allegations that a televised political program is accepting direction from a Xinhua correspondent. This is alleged to be Xinhua reporter Zhao Bo.

Details are relatively scarce, except that Xinhua had reportedly reached out to Taiwanese news programs offering commercial opportunities in return for accepting such direction. This would have reportedly been with regard to televised political commentary programs, which can be highly influential in Taiwanese politics in featuring appearances by politicians. However, reportedly only one program accepted this offer. Claims are that Xinhua was involved in monitoring and checking the production process for the political program at a number of stages, checking to ensure that its directives had been complied with, and aiming to set the agenda of political discussion in Taiwan through such actions.

The NCC has stated that if the allegations are found to be true, the program would be fined 2 million NT and the program would be taken off air or ordered to make changes. The Ministry of Culture, too, is looking into the matter.

Zhao, however, left Taiwan one month ago. Pan-Blue media outlets such as the China Times have published articles denying that anything is irregular regarding Zhao’s departure, seeing as Chinese reporters can only stay in Taiwan for 90-day periods. The stated purpose of Zhao’s visits included reporting on Taiwan in the wake of earthquakes that started in April.

Chinese news outlets are allowed to station reporters in Taiwan. There are currently eight Chinese reporters in Taiwan. Outlets allowed to station reporters in Taiwan include from Xinhua, the People’s Daily, China National Radio, China Central Television, China News Service, Fujian Southeast Satellite Television, Fujian Daily News, Xiamen Satellite Television, the Shenzhen Press Group, and Hunan Television.

However, this would not be the first time that Chinese reporters in Taiwan have been accused of acting as political operatives for influence operations, in directing the production of programs aimed at influencing public opinion, rather than the stated purpose of their visa in reporting. In July 2020, the Tsai administration expelled two Chinese reporters working for Southeast Television due to the fact that they were producing a talk show in Taiwan, though their visas were for reporting rather than hosting and producing television programs. Subsequently. Phoenix Television later withdrew from the Taiwan market in April 2022.

Photo credit: XNAHK/WikiCommons/CC BY-SA 3.0

During this controversy, the Tsai administration emphasized that it was not opposed to Chinese reporters visiting Taiwan for reporting, but only when they violated the terms of their visa. Expulsions of Chinese reporters are rare in Taiwan, even with the DPP administration in power. Chinese reporters began to be allowed in Taiwan during the Chen administration and this was also true during the Tsai administration.

Still, in the course of the current investigation, the pan-Blue camp has framed the Lai administration as seeking to crack down on opposing political views. China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) has also denied the allegations. Both sides have alleged that “green media” is simply seeking to stir up public opinion against the KMT. This also previously occurred with regards to Phoenix Television, with the pan-Blue camp casting doubt on claims about the network. During a press conference by DPP legislators about the allegations in the legislature, KMT legislator Chen Yu-chen ran into the meeting room and disrupted proceedings for several minutes.

To this extent, Want Want Group-owned television networks and newspapers have been reported on by the Financial Times and Apple Daily as directly accepting Chinese funding or say in their editorial direction from the TAO. This, too, has often been denied by the pan-Blue camp, even as the pan-Blue camp has alleged that the DPP sought to crack down on media freedoms when Want Want-owned CtiTV lost its broadcast license over violations in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, such as exaggerating the crowd count for KMT Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu’s inauguration or reporting that an “auspicious cloud” appeared above a meeting of three KMT mayors. Similarly, the KMT has hit out at efforts by the Tsai administration to regulate Chinese streaming providers, claiming that this, too, is a form of media censorship. Questions have been raised about if this program under investigation would shift to an online format to avoid scrutiny if it is found guilty, such as what occurred with CtiTV after it lost its broadcast license.

After CtiTV lost its broadcast license, the KMT has increasingly leaned into political attacks that the DPP uses the NCC as the instrument of its political will. To this extent, at a time in which the KMT has called for expanding legislative power to grant legislators prosecutorial powers normally belonging to the judiciary or executive branch of government, and reviving the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Ministry of Justice–used to investigate political corruption under past KMT administrations–but putting the SID under legislative control, the KMT seeks to expand legislative power because it does not see itself as able to win the presidency and it currently has a slim majority in the legislature. As such, the KMT has suggested that the NCC should be changed so that appointments to it are based on legislative proportional representation as well. The KMT’s efforts to expand its powers through the legislature may pertain to media regulation in Taiwan, as well.

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