A smear campaign against Taiwanese scholar Huang Kuo-chang by Want Want China Time's (WWCT) [zh] media outlets, in reaction to his opposition of the group's acquisition of a television cable network back in July 2012, has triggered intense public outrage in Taiwan.
More than 9,000 students and journalists demonstrated together against media monopoly on September 1. The mobilization is the largest addressing media reform in Taiwanese history.
In addition to the controversy over the cable network acquisition, many scholars have also questioned WWCT owner Tsai Eng-Meng‘s style in running media organizations; he has made public claims that “the June 4 Massacre reports are incorrect“, fired the chief editor [of China Times] who was critical of Communist China government officials [zh], and sells column inches in his media outlets to the mainland Chinese government.
On July 25, when NCC was reviewing the WWCT application, Huang Kuo-chang – among a dozen other scholars – protested outside its offices demanding they to turn down the application. They left at 10:30am but at 3pm a group of so-called students with masks on their faces, arrived at Taiwan media regulator the National Communications Commission (NCC) to also protest.
WWCT photographers took some photos showing a woman distributing money to the protest “students”. The photos were published the next day, in the Times Weekly's front page story [zh], ‘Huang Kuo-chang headed anti-Want Want China Times protest, the demonstrators were paid. With whose money?’.
All major WWCT media outlets then opened fire at Huang. Even though Huang Kuo-chang clarified the situation in a press conference [zh] and the woman who distributed the money also confirmed [zh] that Huang did not paid the students, WWCT's six media outlets continued smearing Huang [zh] in the news, editorials and talk shows.
A netizen with sharp eyes found out that the Deputy Chief of Times Weekly, Lin Chao-xin, was among the “student” protestors [zh] and distributed a screenshot online, which was reposted by a student from National Tsinghua Universy, Chen Wei-ting, with a question asking if WWCT were directing the protest behind the scenes.
WWCT's TV outlet revealed Chen's personal details to the public and accused him of creating fake evidence against Lin Chao-xin [zh].
Opinion leaders speak out
Outraged by the smear campaign, newspaper columnist Chang Chuan-fen wrote [zh] a long article on her Facebook:
Want Want China Times tried to set an example by smearing Huang Kuo-chang to intimidate others. That's why it crosses the line so as to deliver the message that those who were against it would vanish. Newspaper, TV and paparazzi joined force to attack and harass, this is power of media mafia, isn't it?
Director Wang Hsiao-ti [zh] called for a boycott of WWCT with his ‘You are so big and I am scared‘ action on Facebook. Famous writer Chang Ta-chuen [zh] expressed his ultimate disappointment [zh] and closed his blog in the China Times Electronic News, followed by scholar Ke Yufen [zh], music critic Ma Shifang [zh], and director Hung Hung [zh].
I don't care if the China Times’ boss is pro-China or famous or wealthy. All these are not the real issue. But when a newspaper attacked a scholar and a student for two consecutive days, it has betrayed the principle of free speech.
Please stop Tsai Eng-Meng from purchasing more media companies… Press and information freedom could not be sold.
Online mobilization against media giant
The Youth Coalition Against Media Giant [zh] was set up by students from 28 universities and it organized a demonstration against WWCT on July 31. Even though Typhoon Saola was approaching on that day, around 700 students showed up outside the headquarter of WWTC with slogans – “unprofessional media, go back to the food industry [zh]”, “defend news freedom against media giants”, “defend freedom of speech against chilling effect”.
Within WWCT, there is some dissent. The Deputy Chief Editor of China Times, Ho Jungshin, revealed in his blog [zh]:
In order to strive for professional independence, a number of colleague including myself have tried very hard… But there is some backfiring and in order to prevent other colleagues from taking the consequences, I have submitted my resignation letter.
Ho is the founding chairperson of the Taiwan Journalist Association. His resignation indicates the failure of internal reforms and a number of journalists followed his move [zh]. Another China Times journalist who resigned, You Wan-chi, published [zh] her diary online:
Today I choose to leave mainly because the way how they smeared Huang Guo-chang has crossed my line. I worked in China Times for more than one year, the disappointment and emotional stress has been excessive. Even though the salary is a dozen more times higher than other media outlets, I could not find any reason for me to stay.
September 1 anti-media monopoly protest
Parent groups launched a petition against media bullying of students,’Family members united against the hegemony of Want Want China Times [zh]’. Journalist students co-signed a statement that they will refuse working for Want Want China Times. The Youth Coalition Against Media Giant urged consumers stop buying from Want Want and the Taiwan Journalist Association called for a protest against media monopoly on September 1.
More than 9,000 people joined the September 1 rally. The protestors are mainly media workers, students and members of civic groups. They demonstrated outside the headquarter of the WWCT and rallied to NCC demanding Tsai Eng-ming to resign from all media management position. They also called for professional journalistic practice and an anti-media monopoly law. This is the biggest media reform demonstration in Taiwanese history.
Professor Chang Jin-hua from the Center of Journalism and Communication, National Taiwan University stressed [zh]:
We demand NCC to defend a democracy that protect diversity, journalistic autonomy and press freedom. You are not corporates and political parties’ tools. The monopoly of the cable network would destroy press freedom and media workers’ rights. So far NCC has not figured out any strategy to deal with the situation. Instead it allows the media giant [WWCT] to grow. The NCC should introduce an anti-media monopoly law.
Yet after the September 1 protest, the NCC still refused to change in its decision on WWCT's acquisition of China Network System. The flames of fury continue to spread.