China Stains Taiwan’s Media Red

CommonWealth magazine reports on Chinese authorities buying favourable news coverage in Taiwanese news publications:

On Aug. 2 last year Mei Kebao, deputy secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Hunan Provincial Committee, arrived in Taiwan with a large delegation to participate in “Hunan Week 2010,” a promotional event to boost exchanges between Hunan Province and Taiwan. That same day the Chinese-language China Times splashed the story titled “CPC Hunan Provincial Committee Chairman Mei Kebao and Delegation Arrive in Taiwan” across the front page of its China section. The headline of another major daily, the United Daily News, screamed “Hunan Week Is Here, A Golden Horde of 400 Flock to Taiwan.” On Aug. 3 both newspapers awarded full-page coverage to the event.

These apparent “news” reports were actually advertorials that the Chinese government placed in Taiwan’s media for money, yet they were not labeled for readers as paid content ….

Newspapers, online media, and radio and television broadcasters sell space for Chinese government propaganda that masquerades as news or entertainment programs. “The media have all become tinted,” one government official sighs. While the media had a “blue” or “green” tinge in the past, depending on their domestic political preferences, they are now all stained “red.”

Monitoring Taiwan’s major Chinese-language newspapers, the non-profit Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence found 69 advertorials sponsored by China in the China Times and 30 in the United Daily News during the first nine months of 2010. “The lion’s share appears as news reports, exclusive interviews, or features. It looks just like news, and is intended to mislead,” asserts the foundation’s executive director Lu Shih-hsiang.

This paid news placement is not entirely limited to Taiwan: James Fallows recently pointed out the blurred line between sponsored content from China Daily and the Washington Post’s own news coverage on the latter’s website.

At the same time, cross-Straits business links are encouraging self-censorship by some media sources on Taiwan, according to China Real Time Report:

The report … pointed to worrying signs that Taiwanese media may be subject to commercially-motivated censorship stemming from the island’s relationship with mainland China, singling out a column that ran in the China Times on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The column listed historically important events on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, but did not bring up the crackdown. As Freedom House notes, China Times is owned by Tsai Eng-meng, a businessman with extensive interests in China.

“As commercial ties between Taiwan and mainland China deepened in 2010 with the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, press freedom advocates raised concerns that media owners and some journalists were whitewashing news about China to protect their own financial interests,” the report said.

The report also brought up growing concerns about an increasing political polarization of Taiwan’s media sources, subjective reasoning for the repeated rejection of an application by Next Media to start a cable television channel, and a new un-passed law designed to limit depictions of violence, drug use and lewdness in media.