GIO Closes Shop: Media Holds All Night Vigil
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 15, 2012
Summary: The government has undergone a wave of reorganization. The Government Information Office (GIO) will officially close its doors on May 20. Today it invited past GIO directors to a "thank you and farewell party." The "farewell" part is true enough. But as far as the "thank you" part is concerned, where does one begin? Sixty-five years have passed. The GIO has always drawn more brickbats than bouquets. Expressing thanks at a farewell party is just a wee bit hypocritical.
Full Text below:
The government has undergone a wave of reorganization. The Government
Information Office (GIO) will officially close its doors on May 20.
Today it invited past GIO directors to a "thank you and farewell party."
The "farewell" part is true enough. But as far as the "thank you" part
is concerned, where does one begin? Sixty-five years have passed. The
GIO has always drawn more brickbats than bouquets. Expressing thanks at a
farewell party is just a wee bit hypocritical.
Under Chen Shui-bian calls were made for the GIO's abolition. But it is officially closing its doors under Ma Ying-jeou. This decade-long process illustrates the peculiar fate of the GIO. It also tracks the evolution of democracy on Taiwan.
Under martial law the GIO was the iron fist that throttled the free press and free speech. Under democracy martial law was lifted. The iron fist should have been eliminated. The rule of law should have been restored. Such was the megatrend. Yet when Chen Shui-bian came to power he failed to make use of his authority. He failed to reform the GIO. Instead, he made one controversial appointment after another to the post of GIO Chief. These appointees launched inappropriate, extremist attacks on the regime's political enemies. They persecuted private citizens and the media. These practices deepened antagonisms toward the GIO.
When President Ma took office he called for the GIO's dissolution. He called for its functions to be transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, among others. He established a position in the Executive Yuan for a single government spokesman. Now, on the day of his second Inauguration, he is completing this reorganization. He intends to ensure that the GIO, which was more powerful than its name suggested, will lower its flag with dignity, He intends to restore the media's right to oversee cultural and publishing realms. Today former GIO Chiefs will meet. They should be glad that the GIO is making a graceful exit. Democratization has taken a step forward. There is not much worth celebrating, It would be inappropriate to make too much of the occasion.
This does not mean we should ignore what the GIO did for 60 years. The GIO was established in 1942, in a troubled time. It took on the important job of explaining national policy, at home and abroad. It sponsored and subsidized films and cultural activities. Many people invested their creativity and effort. On the other hand, the GIO censored the media, speech, and publishing, It adopted a high profile during authoritarian rule. It clung to its bureaucratic nature after the lifting of martial law, For these it was strongly criticized. During democratization and diversification, the GIO served as the government's mouthpiece, even as it oversaw the media and the publishing industry. These roles were clearly contradictory. The GIO's dissolution was inevitable.
The dissolution of the GIO was necessitated not merely by democratization, but also by political clashes that occurred during democratization. The destruction of a free press was not merely the result of the GIO. It was the result of many political forces, all of which were guilty of the same mentality as the GIO. For example, even after martial law was lifted, President Lee Teng-hui abused his power. He spearheaded a take no prisoners "newspaper boycott" during his term of office. This was something the GIO never had the temerity to undertake. The Democratic Progressive Party denounced the White Terror. But when the Chen regime came to power, it repeatedly abused its power conducting searches of newspapers and reporters' private residences. It imposed a Green Terror. It censored TV stations that provided open forums for political debate. It desisted only when Washington intervened. James Soong interfered with the media when he was GIO Chief, Later, when he was a presidential candidate, he asked the GIO to order the television media to provide equal coverage for all candidates. For example, the Green Camp frequently denounced the media as "pro-reunification." It behaved even worse when it was in power than the Taiwan Garrison Command. The public needs to understand these peculiar political developments. They are sadder than any sadness old hands feel at the GIO's closing.
The real concern as the GIO turns off its lights and closes its doors, is the slump the media seems to have fallen into. The quality of tv shows and news shows is abysmal. News is dominated by paparazzi reports, The National Communications Commission has taken over from the GIO. But it clearly cannot control the broadcasting industry. The inadequately funded Ministry of Culture will soon be charged with overseeing the publishing industry and movie industry. These are all worrying developments.
The decline in media quality has nothing to do with the abolition of the GIO. It has to do with cutthroat competition and the rise of the Internet. More importantly, democratization has destroyed many of the values and beliefs once held sacred on Taiwan, In the meantime, society has yet to reach a new consensus. This is why we face mass confusion. The GIO is about to close its doors. This is something the media and the public should ponder. Democracy is not established overnight. It must be constructed one brick at a time. Martial law was lifted 20 years ago. Yet the dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties remains shallow. The same holds true for public opinion. This is democracy backsliding.
The GIO is turning off its lights, The media is holding an all night vigil. The work of guarding democracy on Taiwan now falls upon the shoulders of the best and brightest within the Fifth Estate.
2012.05.15 03:11 am