The end of a free press in Taiwan?

With everything happening back here at home these days, it’s easy to lose track of some of the stories taking place half a world away. This weekend, I wanted to take a moment to touch on one story of eroding freedom in a long time ally of the United States, Taiwan. Erika posted a story earlier about how China’s new leadership is leaning hard on old fashioned communist suppression moving into the future, and I have to wonder if they aren’t looking at similar tactics in Taiwan. On the island nation, Chinese interests are gobbling up the press market, a move which may soon put independent journalism on the endangered species list.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ) in expressing concern about the details of the sale of Next Media’s Taiwan Holdings and the potential threat posed to media diversity and press freedom in Taiwan.

It was first reported in mid-October by local media that media mogul Jimmy Lai planned to sell his Taiwan-based print and television assets to a consortium including Jeffrey Koo, the chairman of Chinatrust Charity Foundation, William Wong, chairman of the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG), and a Singapore-based private equity fund.

Concerns over the impact on media diversity as a result of the sale have heightened following confirmation of the dominance of Want Want China Times Group (WWCT)– whose Chairman tycoon Tsai Eng-meng, is largely seen as pro-Beijing–in the US$601.2 million deal has been confirmed.

The deal includes the sale of Taiwan’s Chinese-language newspapers, Apple Daily, Sharp Daily, as well as Next Magazine and Next TV.

I realize this may seem like something of an obscure story at the moment, but it really should be of concern to the United States. We’re not only seeing more aggressive moves by the Chinese at home, but it comes at a time when the US is shifting its foreign policy focus to the western Pacific. The long running, barely contained hostilities between mainland China and Taiwan are no secret, and the position of the United States as a backer of Taiwan put us in an increasingly delicate position in the coming century.

The lack of media freedom and diversity in Taiwan is already being widely noted. Reporters Without Borders has already downgraded Taiwan in their rankings of press freedom in Asia, where they had previously ranked first. The Wall Street Journal has taken note of the Taiwanese youth fighting for their freedom all over again and protesting the pending media deal. Allowing the Chinese to slowly seal up the public flow of information in Taiwan would set a dangerous precedent and pave the way for potentially worse things to come. I’m not sure what, if anything, the US can do about this beyond speaking out and using their influence in the region, but it definitely seems worth the effort.