International Community Radio (Taiwan)

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Date: 1991

Region: Asia

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Radio

Artist: George Wehrfritz, Jim Finkle, and Nicholas Gould

Confronting Bodies: International Community Radio (ICRT)

Dates of Action: September 1991

Location: Taiwan

Description of Artwork: "... Born in 1979, ICRT (International Community Radio) grew out of United States Armed Forces Radio, Taiwan. The ten person board of directors-which has strong ties to the American business community-includes two Americans, a Dutch meat importer, and, ... seven Chinese. Several of the Chinese directors, however, have spent many years in the United Sates, even holding American passports. Controversy began after the ICRT under the direction of Nicholas Gould aired reports on a street protest organized by the opposition Democratic Progressive party (DPP) on April 17th. The reports, said Wehrfritz, led to the impression on the part of the board that ICRT was being perceived as "DPP radio."

The Incident: After the report on the DPP aired the board of directors initiated a restructuring of the station, which included demoting deputy news director Nicholas Gould and firing two American reporters Gould had hired, George Wehrfritz and Jim Finkle. Although the board claimed that the layoffs were a result of "financial difficulties," the Chinese Press and the ousted reporters contested the stations' claim recalling restrictions enforced by the government in the recent past. Martial law and strict government censorship of the press were an accepted fact of life. Less than a decade ago (the article was written in 1992), suspended publishing licenses, stiff fines, and even jail sentences awaited those who strayed from the ruling Kuomintang party line. Martial law ended in 1986, however, and censorship is a thing of the past. Opposition parties are now legal and street protest have become common place. The new atmosphere of freedom is one reason the Taiwanese press, exercising its recently discovered muscles, has been so eager to cover the dismissal of the reporters. In the case of the laid-off reporters it was not the government enforcing censorship restrictions, but the "marital law mentality " of the ICRT's board of directors, according to one of the laid-off reporters, George Wehrfritz. In August, the board designated a "committee of four to look into station restructuring and appointed Doc Casey as news director. Casey issued a series of threatening memos, one of which warned of the 'dangerous attitude" of the journalists who "from time to time... are seeking to become martyrs to promote or defend free speech... Once you step outside those boundaries, you're on your own, and believe me you will not only lose my support, but most likely your job as well." One month after the memo Gould was demoted, and the two reporters Wehfritz and Finkle were fired.

Results of Incident: The reporters sued the station for "improper dismissal" in a district court. (And), "in May, the Taipei district court found in favor of the fired reporters, ruling that they were owed back pay and benefits. Meanwhile, the press focused so much attention on the station that the management soon found itself forced to put Gould's show back on the air. It has given in to a relatively free hand in reporting domestic news ever since... "

Source: Andrew Leonard, "Taiwan Twist," Columbia Journalism Review, 1992, V31n2, July pg. 16)