The Political Assassins Have Drawn their KnivesAs long as hacks who have long been proven to be liars and fabricators are given a platform in the media, they will continue to undermine our democracy
Oh my. It’s only June and already the talking head madness has already begun. If the past week is any indication, we’re in for an excruciating next seven months, during which triteness, outright lies, and accusations will hijack rational discussion and analysis of the upcoming presidential election.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which is in a bit of a bind nowadays, has already unleashed its critters. The usual suspects, individuals who have turned crass political attacks into an art form, are out. Tune in to any Taiwanese TV channel nowadays and you’re likely to come upon reports on Alex Tsai’s (蔡正元), Chiu Yi’s (邱毅), or other KMT legislators’ latest libelous attacks against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). I will not dignify the mud that comes out of these hacks’ mouths by reprinting it here.
If it’s not “news” reports about the fabrications, it’s talking heads heatedly discussing them. Since entertainment and controversy often passes of as news and analysis in Taiwan, media outlets are complicit in what is quite evidently a campaign by the KMT to distract the population and prevent debate on issues that matter — say, Hung Hsiu-chu’s (洪秀柱) policies, which would take Taiwan back 30 years, KMT legislators’ continued blocking of constitutional reform, or why the progressives within the party have all seemingly become cowards, as the great Antonio Chiang (江春男) lamented in his column for the Apple Daily. How else, but for ratings and entertainment value, can we explain SET TV, a green-leaning station, inviting that buffoon Chiu Yi on one of its talk shows (it was only a matter of days before he came out of whatever rock he’d been hiding under) so that he can spew more of his idiocies?
Why is it that men who long ago were exposed as liars and immoral individuals continue to pollute our airwaves, our Internet, and our newspapers, day in and day out?
Sadly, whatever these people say continues to pass off as “news,” and consequently the DPP feels that it cannot ignore such idiocies; it must therefore respond to each and every one of them. In most cases, this involves “proving a negative.” Lies are news; proving a negative is news; this goes on for 24, 36, 48 hours, and what have we learned? Absolutely nothing. Zero substance. Throw in car accidents and the latest sex scandal, and the cycle starts all over again with a new allegation, and on and on, ad nauseam…
Political shows in Taiwan have descended to the level of freak show, which is detrimental to democracy, as it prevents the population from being informed enough that it can make enlightened decisions at the polls. Yes, sometimes it gets ugly even in more “mature” democracies like Canada, as the Conservatives’ character assassination of Liberal Party candidate Michael Ignatieff a few years ago made perfectly clear. But rarely does it get as nasty, and in such a sustained fashion, as it does in Taiwan.
As long as news outlets perceive that there is high demand for such material, they will continue to focus on it. Perhaps if enough of us stopped watching altogether, or boycotted the TV stations and newspapers that bombard us with such triteness, market forces would compel their owners to provide a little more substance. At a minimum, they would stop inviting these clowns to their studios.
Or perhaps what’s needed is for enough citizens to say “Enough is enough, we’ve had it with KMT minions who endeavor to keep us uninformed.” The Appendectomy Project came close to ridding us of Alex Tsai earlier this year and likely would have succeeded were the referendum thresholds not so high. Maybe the next protests outside KMT headquarters should call on the leadership inside (if, indeed, there is still leadership there) to end such practices once and for all.
Of course such KMT tactics might backfire, as they did in the Nov. 29 elections last year when its candidate for Taipei, Sean Lien (連勝文), was roundly defeated by the political upstart Ko Wen-je (柯文哲). During that campaign, the Lien camp, directed by no other than Alex Tsai, brought political mudslinging to a new low by accusing Ko, a trauma surgeon, of a variety of evils—using organs harvested from Falun Gong practitioners in China, murdering patients here to steal their organs, “Japanese colonial subject,” misogynist, misusing special funds, you name it. KMT dinosaurs like Lien Chan (連戰) and Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) weighed in and resurrected old noxious notions of ethnicity, making matters even more miserable for all of us. None of it was true. A lot of it was libelous. But all of it was “news” and the topic on afternoon and evening talk shows.
Ko won, thankfully, but the campaign was nothing that Taiwanese ought to be proud of. It was a travesty, and it was utterly painful.
Ultimately it’s more than just about elections, which is why a potential backfiring is not enough for us to allow those people to get away with it. The quality of our media is a crucial component of the quality of our democracy. The stakes in the 2016 elections are extremely high, higher, perhaps, than they’ve ever been. Taiwan cannot afford to be uninformed about the policies that are being proposed by the two main camps and those of the Third Force. We should no longer countenance hacks like Alex Tsai and Chiu Yi, who have repeatedly shown their utter disregard for democratic ideals.
J. Michael Cole is editor in chief of Thinking Taiwan, a senior non-resident fellow at the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and an Associate researcher at the French Center for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Taipei. He is the author of Black Island: Two Years of Activism in Taiwan published in March 2015.