TaiwanNews’s Attack on BBC Is Unwarranted, Irresponsible, and Based on False Information

This morning in Washington D.C. time, I woke up to an article titled “The BBC makes trouble in Taiwan’s backyard once again” by Mr. David Spencer writing for TaiwanNews.

In the article, Mr. Spencer expresses his loud disapproval of BBC’s Cindy Sui over her lack of condemnation towards PRC military planes entering Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in an article. According to Mr. Spencer, BBC must fire Ms. Sui because she does not provide favorable coverage for Taiwan.

At first, I was surprised that a journalist at one of the most well-known english-language newsletter centered on Taiwan would mount a direct attack on a fellow journalist.

“Cindy Sui either lacks an understanding of the sensitive geopolitical situation that exists between the two countries or has got someone in Beijing sub-editing her comments before she publishes them,” alleges Mr. Spencer.

The latter part is a pretty heavy accusation to make. The only media network that we know that might have Beijing’s edits is Want Want China Times’ China Times. Mr. Spencer’s unsubstantiated claim here is baseless.

Ironically, much of the information cited by Mr. Spencer himself are mistaken or false. In his article, he seems to equate ADIZ to a country’s territorial airspace.

“All countries have ADIZs, and all have rules about who can and cannot enter them,” he wrote. “When these rules are broken, it is considered hostile military activity and provokes a military response.

But these statements are false. ADIZ are not exclusive, and nor is it present between every country. It is a space of heightened military sensitivity that other countries can, but have no obligation to recognize. As seen in this diagram drawn by the Center of Strategic and International Studies, Taiwan’s ADIZ overlaps with China’s territorial airspace and other ADIZs.

https://amti.csis.org/counter-co-east-china-sea-adiz/

Much like the maritime Exclusive Economic Zone, ADIZ does not normally exclude military prescence. What enforces Taiwan’s ADIZ is Taiwan military’s ability to deter invasion by Beijing (at the threat of shooting entering aircrafts down).

Here is what Ms. Sui wrote: “China refrained from flying into Taiwan’s south-west air defence identification zone for years, even though it had the right to do so — such zones are not recognised in international law.”

Ms. Sui’s description of ADIZ is accurate. She also illustrated an apparent disconnect: though Taiwan military implies ADIZ to have some sort of marking of territorial sovereignty, it is not always able to deter Chinese jets from coming into said space. Whether this is an “incursion” or not is up to the choice of word.

Additionally, Mr. Spencer made some significant misattribution in his article, mistaking the opinions of Ms. Sui’s sources as those of Ms. Sui in two occasions.

“Sui then goes on to suggest that the CCP has been taking the provocative actions because it is annoyed the U.S. and Taiwan have been “changing the status quo over the past four years,”” Mr. Spencer alleges, adding that he believes that “[t]his statement is not only ridiculous but also inaccurate.”

But it is not Ms. Sui, but her analyst sources, who suggest so.

Analysts believe China wants to show dissatisfaction towards what it sees as former US President Donald Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen changing the status quo over the past four years (emphasis added),” was what was published.

In another line, Mr. Spencer misattributed Beijing’s position as Ms. Sui’s own idea. “Sui goes on to describe Taiwanese airspace as Beijing’s “own back yard,” he alleges.

But the original line reads: “Just because there’s now a change in US president, doesn’t mean Beijing will stop asserting what it has long seen as its right to fly in its own backyard (emphasis added).”

Maybe to quote Mr. Spencer himself, I would say that these types of mistake makes for “the worst and most irresponsible kind” of journalism.

After disregarding the misquotes and mistaken evidences Mr. Spencer used to attack Ms. Sui, I found that what was left was a collection of emotionally-charged personal attacks.

I was not exactly sure what this line is meant to say: “Cindy has been the BBC’s woman in Taiwan for a long time, despite having a long track record of producing content that is flattering to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Perhaps this is why BBC reporter John Sudworth was allowed to interview President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) rather than Sui?”

It does appears to imply a correlation between Ms. Sui’s gender and her professional ability?

“It is quite obvious that the broadcaster [BBC] has completely lost touch with the situation in Taiwan,” Mr. Spencer further alleges. “They have outsourced reporting to a part-time hack who offers baseless, partisan views that are then published without any vetting of content or sources.

Maybe add a plural on the "hacks": I, also "part-time hack,” also contributed to BBC’s reporting with an article last March. What’s wrong with sourcing news from people who are not full-time reporters?

At the end of the day, Mr. Spencer’s directed attack at Ms. Sui seem to be based on political differences, in particular her lack of explicit support of the Taiwan government. Although emphasizing the need for journalists to be impartial in the article, he takes a distinctive pro-Taiwan government position and peculiarly compares the Chinese Communist Party to a toddler who “has thrown its toys out of the pram.”

In Taiwan, as it is the same in any democratic society, journalists should not exist or work in order to strengthen government agendas, aid national security goals, or appease a “taiwanophile” audience. Journalists are there to keep those in power in check, inform the public, and foster a sense of media literacy.

Central News Agency’s Focus Taiwan already fills the role of the state media representing the Taiwan government’s position, BBC does not have to do the same.

Ms. Cindy Sui may not necessarily agree with the work of the Taiwan government and fully adopt the language it uses, and she should be free to use whatever language she feels best to represent the truth to her audience.

Ms. Sui, a journalist employed by a foreign media company in Taiwan, has no obligation to the Taiwanese people but to bring the truth. And in her article, she did not misrepresent any truth, mostly citing others to paint the picture.

It is Mr. Spencer who misrepresented the truth as presented by Ms. Sui, fueled by a fundamental misunderstanding of both the topic and Ms. Sui’s representation of events.

Mr. Spencer’s action today — singling out an invididual journalist and representing her as pro -Beijing without any substantia evidence — has the effect of putting the work of all journalists in Taiwan at risk, because it threatens the ability of journalists to speak freely even when their opinion or report of the event might go against public opinion.

It also falls just short of calling for a witch hunt given the current public sentiment in Taiwan.

What if Mr. Spencer’s article, already built on misrepresenting Ms. Sui, makes certain people feel so strongly towards her, that they decide to send harassing words as well? Or Death threats? Or Doxx her address?

It should not be usual for journalist in Taiwan to feel afraid in the 21st century, but articles like the one Mr. Spencer wrote has the potential to make any journalist afraid to do their work.

Is this what we want Taiwan to become? With even foreign journalists afraid of making reports that may be perceived as anti-government? Wouldn’t that make Taipei a similar place for foreign journalists as Beijing?

As a Taiwanese national, I say no — this is not the Taiwan I want to see. I want journalists to paint the ugly pictures instead of sugarcoating what needs to be fixed.

I agree with Mr Spencer’s statement that “Taiwan is at the fulcrum of one of the most important and sensitive geopolitical issues of modern times.” But in order to accurately relay Taiwan’s importance to the rest of the world, a diverse media environment that is tolerant of all position is needed.

It is not acceptable to single out another journalist and demand he/she be fired simply because one does not agree with their political opinions.