Taiwan Shutters China-Linked News Agency as Debate Rages Over Press Freedom

Disinformation, newsroom interference cited . . .

Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) has unanimously rejected Chung T'ien Television’s (CTiTV) application for a new six-year broadcasting licence for its news agency, CTi News. The NCC cited the news channel’s repeated violations, including 21 fines for spreading disinformation over the last six years, and over 900 viewer complaints in 2019 as reasons for the move. Accusations of newsroom interference by Tsai Eng-meng, the Beijing-friendly chairman of CTi’s parent company, Want Want China Holdings, have also diminished trust in CTi’s reporting controls and neutrality. In turn, CTi has accused Taipei of shutting down the station for political reasons, describing the decision as “the darkest day for freedom of the press and freedom of speech.”

Freedom of speech or biased news reporting?

Both Taiwan’s governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Reporters Without Borders supported the NCC’s decision based on journalistic integrity and the protection of press freedom. However, CTi has much public support, with opinion polls showing 53 per cent of people do not support revoking the broadcaster’s licence. Dozens of supporters rallied in protest of the NCC decision. The KMT, Taiwan’s main opposition party, has also criticized the decision, arguing that shutting down CTi News is a blow against press freedom and an attempt by the DPP to silence its critics.

Polarization over misinformation . . .

Critics accuse CTi of being a mouthpiece for Beijing, particularly during Taiwan’s 2020 general elections. The broadcaster dedicated close to 70 per cent of its coverage to former KMT presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu, who, as part of the ‘pan-blue’ political alliance, favours stronger ties with Beijing. Media mogul Tsai Eng-meng, chairman of CTi’s parent company, has drawn the ire of many in Taiwan who see him as a major player in disseminating ‘red media’ heavily in favour of Beijing and unification. Fears of China’s interference in Taiwan’s democracy, politics, and press freedom have pushed the DPP government to move for greater anti-fake news controls in recent years, moves opposed by the KMT. Taiwan’s debate over disinformation and press freedom has become an increasingly partisan issue that could have dangerous effects on political discourse and institutional trust.