The News Lens
By: J. Michael Cole
‘It is downright unfair of media like the BBC to claim that this is the normal way things
are carried out at Taiwan’s legislature,’ says J. Michael Cole.
Anyone who follows domestic politics in Taiwan will have seen in recent days a series of brawls pitting opposition Kuomintang lawmakers against those from the majority Democratic Progressive Party. Faces have been slapped; necks choked; water sprayed; and pieces of furniture — chairs, desks — sent flying.
The ferocious behaviour has attracted the attention of international media, which are ever on the lookout for a bit of drama. On 18 July, for example, the BBC ran a piece by its Taiwan correspondent titled “Taiwan’s brawling in parliament is a political way of life,” accompanied by a video clip with text reading “This is the Taiwanese parliament. This is the second fight within a week. The opposition party is known for getting physical to get what they want. If they oppose a piece of legislation, they fight to block it. Literally.”
Such acts are indisputably disgraceful and deserve condemnation, irrespective of who the instigator may have been. It is a blemish on Taiwan’s democracy and hardly the kind of soft power that the democratic island-nation — mature enough that it stands to become the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage — wants to broadcast to the rest of the world.
At the same time, it is downright unfair of media like the BBC to claim that this is the normal way things are carried out at Taiwan’s legislature. In reality, a lot is accomplished in the chambers of Parliament without a hitch, certainly without the high drama that we have seen in the past two days. In fact, most of the time, the routine at the Legislative Yuan is hardly more exciting than what goes on in parliaments worldwide. The BBC’s (and other media) failure to point this out is both unfair to Taiwan’s accomplishments since the lifting of martial law three decades ago and to its audience, which experts aside could be forgiven for regarding Taiwan as immature or the object of derision, and democracy in general as a silly, messy experiment.