Cabinet warns media for allegedly taking orders from China

"Taiwan is a country that respects freedom of speech and of the press, so all we can do is again urge the media to exercise self-discipline," Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said at a press conference in Taipei held after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Executive Yuan on July 18 urged Taiwanese media outlets suspected of doing China’s bidding to explain themselves to assuage public concern, saying that the judicial authorities may investigate any alleged irregularities.

“Taiwan is a country that respects freedom of speech and of the press, so all we can do is again urge the media to exercise self-discipline,” Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said at a press conference in Taipei held after a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Regarding outlets singled out by a recent Financial Times article, Kolas said they should “tell the truth clearly and honestly” to assuage any concerns the public may have.

She added, however, that if any individuals or groups are found to have acted as “Communist Party of China (CPC) agents” and violated the National Security Act, an investigation will be launched.

In an article published a day earlier, the Financial Times cited unnamed journalists working for the Chinese-language China Times and the CTiTV news channel who alleged that their editorial managers “take instructions directly “from China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO).”

It also quoted an anonymous China Times reporter as saying that the TAO — the Chinese government body responsible for handling Taiwan issues — has a say in the angle of the newspaper’s stories and whether they go on the front page.

In response, the TAO accused the Financial Times of “making things up,” while the China Times and CTiTV blasted the article as “malicious fake news” and threatened legal action against the London-based newspaper and any other media outlets that cited the report.

Despite denials from the implicated parties, the allegation prompted the TAO’s Taiwanese counterpart — the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) — to issue a strongly worded press release Wednesday, warning the office to stop its “crude interference” in Taiwan’s elections and local politics.

The MAC said an investigation should be initiated to ascertain whether the allegations are true and if they violate Article 2-1 of the National Security Act, which prohibits people from initiating, funding, manipulating, directing or developing an organization for China or other foreign countries.

The article was part of a draft amendment to the National Security Act that cleared the legislative floor June 19. The amendment is one of the so-called “five national security bills” designed to safeguard Taiwan’s national security that were passed by the Legislative Yuan between May and July.

Asked to comment on the Financial Times article, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) told reporters Wednesday during a state visit to Saint Lucia that Taiwanese society should stay vigilant against information that has been manipulated or is false.

“We should work together to prevent the spread of misinformation, disinformation and manipulated information,” she said.

Chen Shu-ming (陳書銘), a senior executive officer at the National Communications Commission (NCC), told CNA Thursday that as the case involving the China Times and CTiTV has galvanized heated public discussion, the two media outlets were asked to send representatives to the NCC later that day to explain the situation.

The NCC will decide how to proceed with an administrative probe after talking to the representatives, Chen said.

He said the case may be dealt with according to the existing three broadcasting laws if the actions in question do not concern national security. Otherwise, it will be handled in compliance with the National Security Act or the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area.

Turning to a bill introduced by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus in May to regulate “CPC agents,” Kolas said the bill is legitimate and necessary, considering that dozens of Taiwanese online media platforms recently published an article identical to one that appeared earlier on, a TAO-managed news site.

“We are now facing an information warfare, but there are many forms of possible (CPC) agents and the media is only one of them,” Kolas said.

To avoid unnecessary public concern, however, she said the MAC will provide suggestions to the DPP caucus to ensure that the bill provides a clearer definition of what constitutes a “CPC agent” and what actions may violate the law.

Under the current version of the draft bill, Taiwanese nationals or groups will be prohibited from carrying out political propaganda that could endanger national security or social stability in collaboration with — or at the behest of — individuals or bodies affiliated with the CPC, its military, administrative or political bodies, or their agents.

They are also barred from attending meetings organized by CPC-affiliated agencies and publishing resolutions or statements that could undermine Taiwan’s national security, the bill states.

Earlier this month, Tsai pledged to prioritize the passage of the “CPC agents” bill in the next legislative session, which starts in September. However, the bill’s perceived vagueness concerning the definition of an agent and the types of conduct that will be considered illegal have met with fierce criticism from the pan-blue camp, of which the opposition Kuomintang is the main party.

(By Stacy Hsu, Wen Kuei-hsiang and Wu Po-wei)