China Times Media Group filed a defamation lawsuit last week against Financial Times correspondent Kathrin Hille after she published an article alleging China’s meddling in daily newspaper China Times’ editorial direction. The journalist, who has been covering China and Taiwan for over a decade, was also the victim of harassing phone calls and messages after the article was released.
The media group belongs to food manufacturer Want Want, a conglomerate with large operations in China and whose chairman Tsai Eng-Meng doesn’t conceal his sympathy for the Beijing regime. The group has also sued Taiwan’s state-owned press agency Central News Agency (CNA) for quoting the article.
“China Times is abusing the regulation to harass a seasoned journalist whose works it dislikes,” says Cédric Alviani, head of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) East Asia bureau, who believes the Financial Times report “quite plausible, considering the flaunty pro-China allegiance of the Want Want group.”
In a report published in March, RSF quoted a research paper showing how editorial practices at China Times changed dramatically after it was bought by Want Want in 2008. In April, the group also threatened to sue Apple Daily, one of the four largest daily newspapers in Taiwan, for reporting that one of its companies had been subsidized by the Chinese authorities.
Taiwan, a democracy over which the People’s Republic of China claims sovereignty, has seen a significant increase in Beijing’s hold over its media environment over the past years. In May, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau also alleged that some local media outlets were receiving instructions from Beijing.
Taiwan is currently ranked 42nd out of 180 in the 2019 RSF World Press Freedom Index, while China remains near the bottom of the ranking at 177th.