A founding member of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party has slammed the banning of a children’s book and the silencing of a pro-mainland cable television channel as a return to the island’s authoritarian past.
The picture book, Waiting for Dad to Come Home, was ordered off the shelves on December 2 by the culture ministry, which said this week it was considering censoring other books from the mainland.
Just days after the title was removed, the CTi news channel was also taken off the air when the broadcasting regulator declined to renew its licence.
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Former DPP legislator – and one of the party’s founders – Lin Cheng-chieh harked back to the 1950s-1980s, when the island’s Kuomintang government jailed dissidents and banned publications which promoted the island’s independence or the Chinese Communist Party.
“Banning a children’s book, taking CTi news channel off the air and [planning to] censor Chinese publications are the work of the thought police, which was something the KMT did in the past, and I never expected the Democratic Progressive Party government to do the same thing,” he said.
Lin said the latest moves showed the DPP was copying from the KMT’s authoritarian past in trying to control public opinion. He warned it would only “seriously shame” the party, which has long claimed to promote democracy on the self-ruled island.
The book was originally published on the mainland and republished on the island in traditional Chinese. It features a boy whose father is a doctor treating Covid-19 patients and prompted controversy in Taiwan when DPP politicians said it was a glorification of Beijing’s efforts to fight the pandemic.
According to the culture ministry, the local publisher had not applied for approval to distribute the book, which is required by law for books originally published on the mainland. The legislation has been loosely enforced in recent decades. The publisher later recalled the book while libraries removed it from their shelves.
Ten days later, the pro-mainland CTi network was forced off the air, due to its “frequent breach of the rules and the airing of fake or inaccurate news reports for which it had been fined many times,” according to the National Communications Commission.
CTi had earlier been criticised by DPP politicians and supporters who claimed the network was airing improper views and opinions promoting the mainland.
On Monday, Culture Minister Lee Yung-te said he was considering revising the law to censor publications released by the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army – describing them as “propaganda materials”.
“Faced with constant threats of invasion from a hostile or unfriendly country, a government must build fortifications to defend itself,” he said, adding the government was carrying out its responsibilities.
Lee denied the plan was censorship, referring to the existing rule over the distribution of books from the mainland. “What we are considering is a straightening up of the rule, which has not been faithfully enforced over the years,” he said.
Shih Cheng-feng, a political-science professor at National Dong Hwa University in the eastern county of Hualien, accused the DPP of forgetting its roots under President Tsai Ing-wen. She has taken a tougher stance in dealing with Beijing – which has vowed to regain the island, by force if necessary – since coming to power in 2016.
“The DPP used to fight for 100 per cent freedom of speech and the news media when it was still the opposition, but after Tsai was elected to a second term with more than 8.7 million votes, it seems the DPP has forgotten what it once fiercely fought for,” Shih said.
While he disagreed with CTi’s opinions, Shih said the authorities had gone “way too far” in taking it off the air. “If it had done something like promote treason, sedition and violence, the DPP authorities could always have used the national security law to penalise it.”
By refusing to renew its licence, the government had given the impression it was suppressing freedom of expression and advocation, he added.
Shih said if the DPP continued down this path it would pay in the 2022 local government elections, predicting a repeat of 2018, when dissatisfied voters gave a landslide victory to the KMT, including in the party’s traditional stronghold Kaohsiung.
Taipei city councillor Chen E-jun from the DPP defended the moves. She said there was nothing wrong with banning the children’s book, as the mainland government was using it to “rewrite history, bury the truth about the global health crisis, and shirk responsibility for the pandemic.”
Wang Kung-yi, who heads the Taiwan International Strategic Studies Society think tank, said the banning of Communist Party and PLA publications would do little to affect local scholars, as most would be able to find the relevant studies online.
“Before the pandemic, they could even go to the mainland for academic exchanges,” he said.
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