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June 27, 2017

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Freedom of speech means more than just saying what you want

When one asks the Taiwanese people to describe their nation, one of the common attributes they offer is its freedom. When pressed for an example, they will explain how anyone can scold the president, how people can say whatever they want and how the press can run pretty much whatever they see fit.

It is not difficult to understand why the people cherish their current freedom of speech and the open press after 38 years of martial law and media censorship, which were only lifted in 1987 and 1988 respectively.

Alas, judging by the almost unavoidable talk shows and the proliferation of hosts and pundits, Taiwan media have taken the most of their freedom. These commentators, known in Taiwan as the "famous mouths," somehow manage to be experts and insiders of all current topics from political power-play, historical secrets, UFO sightings, particle physics and celebrity gossip.

One of these famous mouths, the experienced newsperson Hu Chung-hsin (胡忠信), made a splash last week by promising a "Nagasaki nuclear explosion" of revelation concerning the bribery scandal of former Cabinet Secretary-General Lin Yi-shih (林義世). Using the perfect conspiracy codename of "Mr. X," Hu insinuated the involvement of a Kuomintang figure higher in rank even than Lin. In a series of comments, Hu said his scoop will be "historic" in proportion and will lay waste to President Ma Ying-jeou's administration.

After wide media speculation raising Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Presidential Office Secretary-General Tseng Yung-chuan (曾永權) as possible candidates as Mr. X, Hu fizzled. He backtracked and claimed he chose not to reveal his information publicly so he could provide the evidence to investigators. He then went to the Special Investigation Division (SID) empty-handed and was sent back after a brief talk. Hu's "evidence" did not lead to any new investigation. The Judgment Day never came.

The pundit blamed the underwhelming non-revelation on his informant, who he claimed had disappeared along with the evidence. He conceded that his descriptions such as "Nagasaki explosion" may be inappropriate but claimed he did not expect them to gain such a large following.

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