Thursday, April 12, 2007

Party State Withdrawal from the Media has become a Rumor on the Wind

Party State Withdrawal from the Media has become a Rumor on the Wind
United Daily News editorial
translated by Bevin Chu
April 12, 2007

Taiwan Television Enterprise (TTV) homepage

Yesterday shareholders of Taiwan Television Enterprises (TTV) waged a proxy battle. Despite influence brought to bear by Cheng Wen-tsang and Steve Chen, the Hung Pang Construction Co, which has close relations with the Liberty Times, did not prevail. Instead, an alliance between Lai Kuo-chou and the Unique Group won the bid. From the public's perspective, the result is a case of "evading a tiger only to encounter a wolf." TTV remains at the mercy of political influence.

The proxy battle was fierce. Outwardly several financial groups were jockeying for control. In reality, only two political powers were engaged in a behind the scenes struggle. One was the Democratic Progressive Party, represented by Cheng Wen-tsang. The other was Lee Teng-hui, represented by Lai Kuo-chou. This is what is so absurd about the entire affair. The reason for the public offering of TTV shares was to implement the policy of "party, state, and military withdrawal from the media." Instead, the public offering merely provided an opportunity for behind-the-scenes manipulators to acquire control over the media. The public offering opened a gate through which the ruling party and the ruling regime could launch an assault on the media.

At a banquet for Japan's Fuji Television Network, Cheng Wen-tsang attempted to pressure Fuji to sell its shares of TTV to the DPP-friendly Liberty Times. Because of this, he lost his job as Government Information Office (GIO) Chief. The truth remains hidden. Minister of Economic Affairs Steve Chen both participated in and hosted the banquet. Whom did he represent? What was his purpose for being there? About these questions the Executive Yuan's investigation report remains evasive. The Su cabinet claimed that "The Liberty Times did not participate in either the bidding or the voting," hoping to let Cheng Wen-tsang off the hook. But when the Hung Pang Construction Company crossed the line during the proxy battle, that directly refuted Su Tseng-chang's lie.

Even after the Fuji Banquet Scandal was exposed, the Democratic Progressive Party government continued helping the Liberty Times and the Hung Pang Construction Company gain control of TTV. Shortly afterwards, via "shuttle diplomacy" by certain political figures, Huachun (Shinkong) Industrial Yarn Chairman Eric Wu sold his 1/10 interest in TTV to the Hung Pang Construction Company. This transaction opened another channel for Hung Pang in its bid to acquire private shares. Even though Hung Pang failed in its bid for a controlling interest in TTV, it has nevertheless been handed a backdoor pass. The government's effort to negotiate a sweetheart deal may have "failed." But as far as the Hung Pang Construction Company is concerned, it succeeded. Think about it. What sort of political pressure or quid pro quo could make former Taiwan Solidarity Union legislator at large Eric Wu betray Lee Teng-hui and sell his shares to a hostile group?

The ruling regime does not hesitate to demean itself by intervening in the proxy battle over media shares. In addition to the usual motives for collusion between government and business, it is motivated by the desire to infiltrate the media. By influencing the management, it can control the manner in which the media reports the news. This kind of manipulation not only flouts the principle of "party, state, and military withdrawal from the media," it runs counter to and infringes the right of media organizations to manage their business affairs. After such an intense proxy battle between shareholder factions, during which new enmities have added to old hatreds, how will TTV operations ever get back on track?

In fact, TTV is already a company with over half its shares in private hands. But the government does not respect the the wishes of private shareholders. It continually treats upper management positions as political rewards for services rendered. It even uses the shares it controls to stir up trouble, to conduct political struggles, indifferent to its duty to manage the company responsibly. Lai Kuo-chou was originally made chairman of the board on the basis of public shares, ignoring the requirement that public interests must be kept separate from private interests. Not only only did he conduct private negotiations with a Japanese shareholder, he discussed the matter of how to consolidate shares, inflicting serious harm upon the company. Despite losing money year after year, Lai Kuo-chou continues to occupy the throne, successfully acquiring control over huge numbers of public and private shares. How does the ruling regime intend to explain its initially humble but eventually arrogant attitude? And how can Lai Kuo-chou sell shares to the public yet still squat in the TTV chairman's seat, refusing to relinquish control?

The TTV public offering continues to make waves. The confusing shadows of political figures and the flagrant manipulation of public and private shares, show that the goal of "party, state, and military withdrawal from the media" has become nothing more than a wraith, shadowy and insubstantial. Even more demanding of our vigilance is the fact that after we remove the phony "party, state, and military withdrawal from the media" talismans and amulets, and examine "freedom of the press" on Taiwan, all we see are stigmata and scars. A single error in reporting the news by TVBS was enough for Democratic Progressive Party lawmakers to organize a political action group demanding that the station be closed down forever. The Taiwan Advertisers' Association, needless to say, chimed right in. Even the National Communications Commission (NCC), the independent agency charged with communications industry oversight, had only to deviate ever so slightly from the ruling regime's orthodoxy for the ruling DPP to demand both the replacement of individual officials and the dissolution of the commission as a whole. From this we can see that external threats to media independence are a thousand times more serious than any internal defects. The most appalling of these external threats is a ruling regime wielding absolute power over others, that does not know when enough is enough.

Overnight Lai Kuo-chou went from being the manager of a public company to the manager of a private company. Whether or not this is beneficial for TTV is hard to say. The key is whether another loophole will allow the Hung Pang Construction Company, which has now acquired control of TTV, to fulfill the role of Democratic Progressive Party proxy. If both sides approach each other with hostility, the result will be partisan bickering within the company, and all private shares will suffer the same fate. The plight of TTV reflects Taiwan's dirty politics, and is a tragedy for Taiwan's media. The bloody struggle between former directors Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian tells the whole story.

Original Chinese below:



這 次釋股大戰廝殺激烈,表面上是多家財團競標,實際上卻是兩股政治力量在幕後纏鬥:一是鄭文燦所代表的民進黨勢力,一則賴國洲為代表的李登輝勢力。這也正是 整起事件最荒謬之處:台視之所以必須出售公股,是因為要落實「黨政軍退出媒體」的政策承諾;孰料,政治力量卻伺機將黑手伸進媒體,釋股政策反而為「黨政進 攻媒體」開了「巧門」。

鄭文燦在「富士宴」上為特定媒體說項,因而丟了新聞局長職位,其幕後真相其實尚未解開。陳瑞隆以經濟部長之尊同時 參與邀宴,他奉誰之命,目的何在,行政院的調查報告始終支吾其詞。而當蘇揆以「自由時報並未參與投標」的說辭,意圖為鄭文燦開脫時,鴻邦建設在投標賽的出 線,其實已等於直接駁斥了蘇貞昌的謊言。

即使在「富士宴」醜聞曝光後,民進黨政府意圖為自由時報/鴻邦建設護航的運作,仍然沒有絲毫停 歇。在短短時間內,透過特定政治力量的運作穿梭,新光化纖董事長吳東昇將手中持有的一成許台視股票賣給鴻邦建設。這項交易,等於幫鴻邦在民股管道另闢渠 道,即使昨天鴻邦在公股決標中失利,它其實已從巧門拿到台視經營權的入場券。政府護航「未遂」,但鴻邦卻可以說是「已遂」。試想,吳東昇身為前台聯不分區 立委,要逼他背叛李登輝而將手中股票賣給敵對集團,那得多大的政治壓力或交換誘因,才能成交?

執政者之所以如此不惜身段介入媒體的釋股 戰,除了政商關係的苟合,無非企圖藉此使自己的影響力滲進媒體,透過影響經營階層來掌控媒體的報導取向。這種操作,不僅與它標榜的「黨政軍退出媒體」完全 背道而馳,甚至已達到妨害媒體事業自由經營的地步。而經過這次釋股的激烈火併,股東間新仇加上舊恨,台視經營豈不愈發難上軌道?

事實上, 台視早已是一家民股過半的公司,政府卻不尊重民股意願,一直將高層人事權當成酬庸,甚至利用手中公股興風作浪,遂行政治鬥爭,將公司治理置之度外。且看, 賴國洲原是以公股董事身分出任台視董事長,卻未恪守公私分際,不僅伺機與日商股東進行私下交易,更與國內財團洽談吃股,都嚴重損害公股代表的立場。但試 問:台視連年虧損,賴國洲始終高坐董事長寶座,最後還成功吃下大量公私股權;對此,執政者要如何解釋自己的前恭後倨?而賴國洲又何以在如今釋出公股仍霸著 台視不放?

台視釋股案高潮迭起,政治人物的錯亂身影,公股和民股的橫遭操弄,在在顯示「黨政軍退出媒體」已退化為虛構的幻象。更值得警惕 的是,揭開「黨政退出」的假符咒之後,我們檢視台灣的新聞自由,看到的只是傷痕累累。T台一則錯失報導,民進黨立委即發起「關台行動聯盟」,廣告主協會也 起而呼應;即連獨立的通訊傳播監督機構NCC行事不合主政者之意,立即陷入個別撤換、整體瓦解的險境。如此看來,媒體外部干預的威脅,恐怕比內部結構的扭 曲嚴重千百倍;而其中最霸道的,就是生殺予奪不知適可而止的主政者。

賴國洲一夕之間從公股代表「變身」為民股,對台視是福是禍,殊難預 料;關鍵端在,經另一扇「巧門」取得台視股權的鴻邦,將如何扮演民進黨的代理角色。雙方若挾怨以對,恐怕只會在公司內部複製政黨惡鬥的結果,所有民股將同 遭其殃。台視的命運,反映的是台灣政治的汙濁,亦是反映台灣媒體的悲情;前後兩任主政者李登輝與陳水扁的這一場肉搏戰,說明了一切。

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