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Former envoy starts ‘NT$10’ movement to help TVBS

Gene Loh, former ambassador to South Africa, kicked off a “NT$10-a-Person” movement yesterday to help the TVBS cable television network pay a NT$1 million fine assessed by the Government Information Office (GIO).

Hundreds of former GIO workers, including its retired chiefs, responded to the call for donations in the cause of the free press, Loh said.

Among them were Ting Mou-shih, Chang Ching-yu and Shao Yu-ming — all former GIO directors-general. Loh had been GIO director in New York before he was appointed Taipei representative in Vienna. He then served as ambassador to Guatemala.

Pasuya Yao, GIO director-general, identified Lian Yee Production Company, which runs TVBS, as a wholly foreign-owned setup and imposed the fine for violation of the ownership restriction rule of the Satellite Broadcasting Law of 1999 last Tuesday.

Yao was blasted for encroaching on freedom of the press. GIO employees who donated secretly complained Yao “reflects shame on all of us.”

One of the former workers, People First Party (PFP) lawmaker Huang Yi-chiao, called Yao “a stigma on the GIO.” Huang used to work as a GIO division chief.

Asked why he should raise money to help pay the fine that should not be paid, Loh said an executive order, though it may be absurd, has to be obeyed.

“We are raising the fund from among the people who believe Pasuya Yao are the hatchet man for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to trample upon freedom of the press,” Loh declared.

That is why Loh wants only NT$10 or US$0.30 from everyone who wishes to condemn the GIO for suppressing freedom of speech.

The goal appears easy to reach.

PFP lawmaker Huang Hsien-yao said he would personally contribute NT$50,000.

Besides, the PFP, of which James Soong, a former GIO chief, is chairman, wants each of its legislators to donate at least NT$1,000.

Soong himself supports Loh’s movement, Chang said. He did not say how much the PFP chairman would donate.

Commenting on the fund-raising for TVBS, Yao said former GIO personnel have “every right” to do “what they want.”

“But remember,” Yao went on, “what these people have done in the past.”

These GIO officials working for the autocratic Kuomintang government used to curb freedom of the press in Taiwan, Yao charged. “How can they now speak aloud (about freedom of the press)?” he asked.

The controversial GIO chief probably has forgotten that it was not the GIO but the propaganda division of the Kuomintang and the hated Taiwan Garrison Command that imposed press control.

Lian Yee is not a wholly foreign-controlled company as Yao claimed, according to Dr. Chen Charng-ven, an international law expert who at one time served as secretary-general of the Straits Exchange Foundation.

SEF is a semiofficial organization in charge of the conduct of nonofficial relations between Taiwan and China.

The GIO intentionally misinterpreted the television broadcasting law, TVBS officials complained.

Eastern Rainbow, a wholly locally-owned company, owns 53 percent of the Lien Yee stock. The other 47 percent is owned by the TVB of Hong Kong, which is registered in Bermuda.

The Bermuda setup owns Eastern Rainbow, and as a result, so the GIO reason goes, Lian Yee is 100 percent owned by one and the same foreign investor.

In assessing the fine for TVBS, Yao invoked the 1999 law that bars any foreign firm from holding more than 50 percent of a local television station. An offender may have his license revoked.

The current row between the GIO and TVBS erupted after a talk show of the cable television station started exposing government corruption, involving Chen Che-nan, a former deputy secretary-general to President Chen Shui-bian.

“The incumbent GIO chief,” Ambassador Loh said, “is disgracing the GIO, making those young people now working under him feel ashamed.”

He said he did not call on Jason Hu and Su Chi, both former GIO directors-general, to participate in his movement. Hu is mayor of Taichung, while Su serves as a Kuomintang lawmaker at large.

“No opposition party affiliation should be accentuated,” Loh said. “That’s why I did not urge them to join,” he added.

But Loh wants the public to contribute.

Those who wish to donate may credit Hsin Chi-lin’s account 00011280108920 with the post office at the Executive Yuan.

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