Ma’s close aide to head Next Media in Taiwan
On 12th February 2009, the announcement that Ma’s close aide and former Taipei deputy mayor, King Pu-tsung, would take up the position of CEO caused some controversy. Despite the fact the King promised to report objectively on Ma’s government and the KMT and Ma both denied any connections, critics were not reassured.
The Liberty Times had a special report on this matter. It was reported that King’s appointment by Next Media was seen as one of Ma’s strategies for the 2012 election campaign. As the Taiwanese public has been less impressed with the Ma/Liu administration, with approval rating around 25-30%, Ma and his aides have already seen huge challenges for Ma for the 2012 election both from the Green camp as well as from within the party. Therefore, they may decide to start early with the media front. As Lai has always wanted to advance his empire from print media to TV, the two groups soon discussed the prospect of the collaboration and soon reached an agreement.
Another special report from the Liberty Times talked about exactly how close King has been to Ma. The report said that the two had known each other for over 20 years and it described King as Ma’s only strategist and confidant. It has been widely known that Ma would consult King on almost every crucial decision. King was believed to be behind (or consulted by Ma on) all the campaign strategies, staff decisions and crisis management for the 2008 presidential election. After winning the election, King was believed to be behind the formation of the Ma administration (e.g. the Ministers of Education, Finance, Mainland Affairs Council, Environmental Protection Administration, Director of General Information Office and Director General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics), how to position crucial individuals within the KMT and the appointments of new senior management of state media (e.g. RTI, CNA and PTS). The report claimed that the current Presidential Office Chief Secretary was informed by King of the confirmation of his appointment before being contacted by Ma himself. The most controversial appointment of all was that of Lo Chih-chiang (who didn’t have any background or experience in journalism), Ma’s campaign spokesperson, as the Deputy Head of the CNA, as at the same time, former co-editor cited government interference with the reporting of CNA as the reason he resigned. It was said that those appointments couldn’t have gone ahead without King’s say so.
Even though King said he would be fair in his handling of reporting on the Ma administration, some are not really convinced because Ma’s government has done a lot to control and interfere with the media despite his promise to uphold human rights and freedom of speech in his inaugural address and numerous public speeches. Even though he says he would protect Taiwan’s sovereignty, he keeps making concessions to China and jeopardise Taiwan’s interest. Some critics have summed up the pattern of Ma’s behaviour: whatever he says he is going to do, he won’t; whatever he says he is not going to do, he definitely is.
Regardless of King’s real intent for accepting this offer, King’s involvement in politics, Ma’s decision-making and the influence he has over Ma as a friend still make some very uneasy about him heading a media empire. Even if he is not going to promoting or protecting Ma in the reporting, when he approaches someone with an offer or a request, would that person be able to say no to King, knowing how important he has been to Ma?