Taiwan TV station in media freedom row gets internet boost

People work in CTi station's control room in Taipei, Taiwan

A Taiwan television station at the centre of a dispute over media freedom that could be forced off the air this week has received a boost to its online presence, a senior executive said on Thursday, as it prepares to shift its focus to the internet.

Taiwan’s National Communications Commission said last month it would not renew CTi’s broadcasting license, citing evidence of interference from a tycoon with major business interests in China, amid fears of Beijing’s efforts to win support on the Chinese-claimed, democratic island.

CTi’s major shareholder, Tsai Eng-meng, runs one of China’s largest food firms, Want Want China Holdings Ltd.

The company and Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang party have denounced the regulator’s decision not to renew the license as censorship aimed at silencing voices critical of President Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai and her government have rejected that, saying the decision was made by an independent body and not subject to interference.

Sky Liang, the vice president of CTi’s news department, told Reuters it would keep broadcasting, but online, and that its YouTube channel had gained some 440,000 new subscribers in the last few weeks, taking its tally to 1.7 million.

“We’ve been forced to become new media. Doubtless this is a big challenge, but everyone has prepared themselves psychologically,” Liang said, adding they were looking at Instagram and Facebook as other areas for development.

The channel is due to go off air at midnight on Friday, though it has lodged a legal appeal to stop this.

Formerly a dictatorship, Taiwan is an exuberant democracy but it has a deeply partisan media, and many Taiwanese view CTi, which began operations in 1994, as being pro-China or “red media”, a reference to China’s ruling Communist Party.

Liang said that was an unfair, “malicious” accusation, and that they took neither instructions nor money from Beijing.

“I’ve been at CTi for a long time, and as a senior executive in the news department. I’ve never come under any pressure from China or (its) Taiwan Affairs Office on what news to report or not report.”

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