In the past few days, a number of mainstream media outlets run by the Want Want China Times Group in Taiwan reported that Chomsky was misled by a young Taiwanese female student, Lin Ting-An. Below is a list of translated headlines:
1. Chomsky: If I knew the campaign is against China, I would not have held the placard [zh] – China Times 04﹣02﹣2013
2. Anti-media monopoly became anti-China campaign, Chomsky was set up [zh] – China Times 29-01-2013
3. Misled to hold the placard, Chomsky: This is serious distortion [zh] – China Times 28-01-2013
In addition to the newspapers, the Citi TV channel, also controlled by Want Want China, ran a one-hour news commentary program on January 29 and 30, 2013 to “clarify” Chomsky's position. The program accused Lin Ting-An, who invited Chomsky to hold the placard, of misleading and using the famous linguist, “the conscience of the U.S”. The commentators in the program also criticized the strategy of the media monopoly movement for singling out pro-China capital, namely Want Want China Times, for its campaign. Below is a short clip of a Citi TV interview with Chomsky:
The media reports were triggered by email communications between Macau based media professor Shih-Diing Liu and Chomsky in which Liu explained his understanding of the anti-media monopoly movement in Taiwan on January 27 2013:
However, I am unsure if you have realized that this anti-media monopoly movement, with its high level of participation among young people, cannot be understood as a simply a movement seeking freedom of the press and democracy on the island. The participants, speakers, and interveners (including the mainstream media, scholars, and groups who have followed along and appropriated the issue) not only focus on the issue of media resources being monopolized by capitalists but also point toward an enemy. This enemy happens to be the one that the government of your country has been cautiously dealing with. However, in the context of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, using the name of “defending Taiwan” to refuse, oppose, and reject all people and matters relating to China and the Chinese government is not an isolated phenomenon, and it needs to be placed in the hegemonic structure led by the United States that you have described so we can fully understand it. The slogan in your hands should also be interpreted in a specific political context.
In response to Liu's long email Chomsky wrote a brief reply which was quoted and made public by Liu in his Facebook:
Thanks for the interesting comments, which go far beyond anything I know about. I also don’t recall a placard referring to “Chinese manipulation.” What I was shown, and held, didn’t go beyond media monopoly and freedom of press. I hope that interpretations don’t go beyond that.
Attached to Chomsky's reply is Liu's rather lengthly interpretation which was picked up by China Times on its January 28 news report and turned into a news and commentary framework among Want Want China Times’ media outlets for use against the anti-media monopoly campaign. Liu interpreted Chomsky's photo as “abduction”:
[…]If Chomsky did not know about this demand [anti-China factor], you have “abducted” him by asking him to hold a placard that expressed your own position. Isn't this rather disrespectful? Why didn't you explain clearly your anti-China position to him? Why was the only English translation the slogan “anti-media monopoly”? Why do you have to cover this up and not let him know your anti-China position? Are you afraid that if Chomsky knew the position, he would not have shown his support? That's why the slogan has been blurred? Of course we don't know the real intention. But if Chomsky did not know there is an anti-China factor in your movement and you placed him in the duck's window display [meaning abduction], your political tactic is very poor!
What he knew and supported was against media monopoly and supported media and press freedom. He doesn't want people to misinterpret and add “other favors” to his position. The issue at stake is, some anti-China people and media have abducted him to strengthen their position. Every movement has their own stand but they have to establish their position with valid means and reason.
According to such understanding, I don't know what would have happened if Chomsky had not been misled or fooled. Those who asked him to hold the placard should know exactly what had happened. It is obvious that he had not been told the compete message and been dragged to support your position. The way the messages have been hidden and transplanted is as bad as the kind of distortion and monopoly that you criticize. Under the flag of “anti-monopoly”, you are doing the opposite.
To clarify the situation, Lin Ting-An posted her email communication to Chomsky in her Facebook. The email, inviting Chomsky to join the campaign, explained in detail the background of the campaign against Pro-China media group Want Want China Times’ acquisition of Next Media, with the translation of the placard slogans:
Here is now a horrible media monopoly event happening in Taiwan: The Pro-China Want Want China Times Group chairman, Tsia Eng-meng, is going to buy the Taiwanese branch of Next Media (which was owned by Hong Kong mogul Jimmy Lai). If this purchase is approved, Mr. Tsai will control about 46% of Taiwan's newspaper market. Mr. Tsai not only owns the newspaper (China Times, Commercial Times), but also the magazine, TV channel, and cable TV service, and his turning a blind eye to Beijing's human rights violations (He denies the Tiananmen square massacre) make us become really worried about the future of Taiwanese media.
In order to against this purchase and the government ignorance, Taiwanese students have launched several protests since November and will hold another one on New Year's Eve. There is now an activity which urges global supporters to photograph themselves, holding the slogan of “Oppose Media Monopoly, Reject the black hand of China, uphold freedom of the press, I protect Taiwan in ___”, and upload it online. (I attached my photo which took at Yang Ming university, Taiwan.)
Although Chomsky has further clarified that he had not been misled by anyone and the incident was a “misunderstanding”, his statement has not had much bearing on the major media outlets.
The debate about whether or not the China Factor should be stressed in the anti-media monopoly campaign has been a debate within the movement since day one. On the one hand, activists are aware that the media liberalization policy since the 1990s has been the driving force of the capital monopoly of Taiwan mainstream media. On the other hand, the influence of mainland China capital, as well as its political agenda to take control of Taiwanese media corporations, has become more and more obvious in the Want Want China Times’ acquisition of TV Cable Network and Taiwan Next Media. Similar debates have been going on among activists for months. After the Chomsky incident, in the anti-Want Want China Times campaign page, Jiangeng Chiou raised the issue [zh] again:
I think we should discuss if the “anti-media monopoly” should go hand -n-hand with “anti-China manipulation”. Currently the anti-media monopoly has attracted the public attention and it is a golden opportunity to campaign for media reform. The blue vs green and unification vs. independence sentiment is not helping the campaign. Let's take a look at the problem faced by Taiwan Public Television Service, the pressure faced by media workers in Taiwan not only comes from China, but also other political clans and capital. Apart from China, we have to confront other political and corporate forces.
In a comment Charlene Delerk replied:
The key is China government wants to manipulate Taiwanese media. Some people who have occupied special positions have become their groves [covering their black hands]. The discussion of whether or not we should delete China factor in the campaign is serving their purpose of dividing our supporters. This issue has been discussed some months ago, now people are still dancing with CitiTV and re-firing the rice that is also sour [meaning turning outdated news into news]. If they like China so much, they can go to China, no one stops them.
For those who are outside Taiwan, it is very difficult to understand the political dynamic and it seems rather inevitable that Chomsky be misled and distorted in such a media and political environment.