Taiwan Shuts Pro-China TV Channel in Battle Over Press Freedom

(Bloomberg) – Taiwan’s broadcast regulator has ordered the closure of one of the island’s most ardently pro-China cable news networks following a months long battle over journalistic standards and freedom of the press.

The National Communications Commission will not renew the broadcast license of Chung T’ien News, the regulator’s chairman Chen Yaw-shyang said at a briefing in Taipei on Wednesday. The station had repeatedly violated broadcast regulations, including frequent failure to fact check news items and the network owner’s involvement in the editorial process, Chen said.

“The key issue is its largest shareholder Tsai Eng-meng is directly and indirectly involved in the production of news programs,” Chen said. “We believe it’s unable to improve its poor operations by solving the structural problem of its shareholder’s involvement.”

Tsai Eng-meng is Taiwan’s second-richest man with a fortune worth $5.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index. The chairman of Shanghai-based rice cracker and beverage maker Want Want China Holdings, he has long been a vocal advocate of Taiwan’s unification with China.

Chung T’ien News, among Taiwan’s most-watched cable news stations, is widely seen as the most vocal supporter of unification with China among the main TV news networks. It is often strongly critical of President Tsai Ing-wen, who views the island as a de facto independent nation.

Chinese Influence

Wednesday’s announcement is the latest example of the often fraught relationship between press freedom and concerns over Chinese influence in Taiwan’s fiercely competitive media landscape.

Taiwan is Asia’s second highest-ranking market after South Korea on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. Since the NCC began its review process of Chung T’ien News, the network has claimed a failure to renew its broadcast license would be a politically backed attack.

Chung T’ien called Wednesday’s ruling illegal in a statement and vowed to pursue legal action to protect their employees’ rights to work and freedom of the press.

The NCC’s Chen insisted the station’s rejection was not politically motivated. Chung T’ien News was the subject of more than 960 public complaints to the regulator last year, accounting for about 30% of all complaints about TV programming, he said.

The station was at the center of concerns over Chinese attempts to sway Taiwan’s public opinion in the lead up to Taiwan’s election at the beginning of the year. It was the focus of a public protest last year when tens of thousands gathered outside the Presidential Office in June to voice their opposition to what they called “red media.”

Chung T’ien News, which employs 475 people, will be able to continue broadcasting until its current license expires on Dec. 11. The NCC granted its affiliated general entertainment channel permission to continue broadcasting under the condition it increases how much it invests in Taiwan and raises the percentage of domestically-produced programs.