The Financial Times’ Edward White reports on plans to ban Chinese-owned video streaming services’ operations in Taiwan amid fears that they could be used as channels of political influence. The restrictions appear to stop short of Great Firewall-style blocks on cross-Strait access to the services, applying instead to their direct or indirect business on the island itself. Nevertheless, the news has prompted some concern about erosion of Taipei’s commitment to freedom of speech.
The decision would apply to services such as Baidu’s iQiyi platform, which already operates in Taiwan, and fend off an anticipated market entrance from Tencent Video. It follows allegations of Beijing’s involvement in the creation of disinformation and spreading Chinese propaganda undermining President Tsai Ing-wen and candidates from her ruling Democratic Progressive party in the lead-up to November’s local elections.
[…] Tech companies including Google and Facebook have criticised Taiwan’s crackdown, which has also sparked censorship fears. But it comes amid heightened international scrutiny over the Chinese government’s overseas activities and as several countries struggle to stem a torrent of false information online.
[…] “We have been very careful on this because freedom of speech is the very spirit that makes us different from China,” said [Kolas Yotaka, spokesperson for Taiwan’s cabinet]. [Source]
The prospective ban was previously reported by Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li at Nikkei Asian Review:
"We are concerned that streaming media services that have close ties with Beijing could have cultural and political influences in Taiwan… and even affect Taiwan’s elections," [Mainland Affairs Council deputy minister Chiu Chui-Cheng] said.
"If Tencent’s streaming video service is trying to enter the Taiwanese market, it’s very likely that it’s a part of Beijing’s propaganda campaign," he said. "What if the company inserts some content that Beijing hopes to advertise? What if it implements messages linked to the Communist Party or its army? We should treat this seriously and carefully at a national security level."
[…] "Streaming media service providers are only an example. We will also look into other Chinese companies’ agents in Taiwan to see if they have violated laws," he said.
[…] "Most big Chinese companies inevitably have a close relationship with the government, and I understand the woes from Taiwan’s side on cultural infiltration from China," said Liu Ningrong, a professor and principal at the Institute for China Business at the University of Hong Kong.
"However, there is no firewall on the internet in Taiwan and people could always look online to reach iQiyi, Tencent Video and other Chinese platforms….. It’s very unlikely to [be able to] exclude those contents," Liu said. [Source]
Even so, the news has sparked some discussion. For example:
As wary as I am of Chinese influence in Taiwan's election, I cannot get behind this. How is this any different from China blocking Facebook or YouTube? This is a slippery slope, and not in line with Taiwan's free speech democracy
— Garrett Dee 狄叡頡 (@grrtt) March 31, 2019
Not saying I agree/disagree, but it is quite different. China blocking private content providers from countries that aren't threatening it w/invasion is not the same as what is being mooted here. There's also the question of reciprocity/level playing field. No easy answers.
— Chris Horton 何貴森 (@heguisen) April 1, 2019
Would like to see more positive measures, like increased funding for local independent media, fact checking orgs, citizen journalism, etc.
— Kerim Friedman 傅可恩 (@kerim) April 1, 2019
Online streaming and Chinese ownership are not the only perceived threats. Students at three Taiwanese universities have been gathering signatures in an effort to bar "biased" news from CtiTV from public screens on campus. The broadcaster is owned by pro-unification tycoon Tsai Eng Meng, and was recently fined for failing to fact-check reports including one about an "auspicious cloud" in the sky over a public appearance by a favored politician. (The cloud’s auspiciousness had not, it seems, been objectively verified.) From Shelley Shan at Taipei Times:
A National Taiwan University (NTU) student launched the initiative on the university’s official Facebook page urging the school to ban broadcasts of CtiTV News at all student cafeterias due to its “biased” coverage, adding that students expect to be able to access quality media content on campus.
[…] A group of students at National Chengchi University (NCCU) are also urging their schoolmates to “take back the TV remote controls” at school cafeterias, after it was reported that a resident near the university would enter school cafeterias, take the remote control, switch the channel to CtiTV News and leave.
[…] Others proposed switching to Formosa TV News instead or removing the numbers “5” and “2” from the remote control, as CtiTV News is on Channel 52 on cable.
National Taiwan University Student Association president Michelle Wu (吳奕柔) said that while she understands that students are angry about TV news channels that do not follow journalists’ code of ethics and spread misinformation, the university might be accused of imposing a gag order if it unilaterally bans broadcasts of CtiTV News.
[…] “Personally, I do not read China Times or watch CtiTV because of its biased news coverage and [reports] heaping praises on a certain politician. However, banning certain TV news stations would hurt the university’s reputation of being a free and democratic academic institution. It is better to use practical actions — switching channels — to boycott CtiTV,” she said. [Source]
Concerns about news shown on public screens reach beyond university campuses:
Every local catering/hospitality establishment in Taiwan has a TV constantly blaring out – inducing owners to tune to Chinese media is an example of the low-level influence activities going on across Taiwanese society https://t.co/mnbinWiOOW
— Jonathan Sullivan (@jonlsullivan) March 31, 2019