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A US report has sparked concerns about China's increasing influence over Taiwan's media.
Hong Kong's media moguls are drawing ever closer to Beijing. Wrote the group: "Of particular concern [was] the appointment of 10 owners of Hong Kong media outlets to a mainland Chinese political advisory body." (See more details here.)
Hong Kong's special arrangement upon reverting to Chinese control in 1997 was supposed to preserve the territory's liberties, including press freedoms.
But instead, much of Hong Kong's media has been bought by commercial interests who practice a high degree of self-censorship to stay on Beijing's good side and protect their stakes in mainland markets.
Now, some see the same pattern playing out in Taiwan. The most eyebrow-raising example: The recent purchase of the China Times media group by a Taiwanese rice cracker mogul with massive business interests in China, and who's seen as friendly with Beijing.
"He has a huge stake in the China market, so how could he criticize China?" asked Lo Chi-cheng, a professor at Soochow University and organizer of anti-government rallies. "No way."
(The company, billionaire Tsai Eng-meng's Want Want, did not respond to a request for comment.)
Lo said self-censorship was increasing among Taiwanese media firms with commercial interests in China. And he warned this was playing into Beijing's strategy of defusing criticism and co-opting Taiwanese.
"The news media in Taiwan has become an important tool for Beijing," Lo said. "The Kuomintang [Taiwan's current ruling party] and the Chinese Communist Party are working together to manipulate Taiwan public opinion. That's an important undercurrent that will shape Taiwan's future."
There's no "smoking gun" yet to prove Taiwan's media has begun to bend under Chinese pressure.
But there are plenty of rumors: An angry boss calls up his staff and tells them to cut out criticism of Taiwan's China-friendly president; a talk show host is told not to criticize China because the company is pushing its soap operas in the China market.
Antonio Chiang, a veteran Taiwan journalist and former government official, dismissed Freedom House's charges of harassment and government pressure. "The police are scared of reporters here, not the other way around," he said.
But he also said that growing Chinese influence was an "obvious trend." Chiang himself writes for the Apple Daily, a Hong Kong-owned newspaper known for its pro-democracy, anti-communist stance.
Apple Daily is an example of what happens to media who get on Beijing's bad side: Its reporters are usually barred from the mainland.
Chiang said it was "inevitable" that Taiwan would go the way of Hong Kong, with commercial interests white-washing coverage of China.
But he says the trend doesn't worry him too much.
"It's like climate change — what can you do?" said Chiang. "We have to adjust to the new situation. I think it's a good test for our belief in democracy, and how committed we are to our national identity."
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