October 13, 2008 / 10:26 AM / 11 years ago

Media watchdog probes Taiwan's milk powder coverage

TAIPEI (Reuters) - An international media watchdog said on Monday it was probing allegations the Taiwan government, which wants better ties with Beijing, tried to influence local coverage of China’s tainted milk powder scandal.

Taiwan’s Government Information Office asked a news agency to change its coverage of the milk powder scandal, the latest in a recent string of demands against the island’s notoriously free-wheeling media, the International Federation of Journalists said.

It said it was still investigating the charges and did not offer details of the changes that were allegedly requested.

Taiwan’s government called the Federation claim “groundless and misleading,” saying it was “based on false stories by reporters whose interests are at stake in the issues concerned.”

Local coverage of the milk powder scandal, which has killed at least four children in China and prompted removals of Chinese-made goods from shelves around the world, has raised Taiwan consumers’ fears of imported dairy products.

“It wasn’t overt interference, but there was a clear message conveyed that (the government) wasn’t satisfied with the reports,” said Sam Grunhard, project director with the Australia-based federation, which claims 600,000 members in 122 countries. “We need to find out more.”

The government has also demanded recently that the news agency remove an article critical of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office in May, and pressured a radio station to go easier on China, the federation said in a statement.

China has seen self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory since the island broke away from Mao Zedong’s Communists amid civil war in 1949. Ma is pushing for stronger ties with Beijing, which has threatened to take the island by force, if necessary.

The government called the journalist federation’s allegation improperly researched and said it had asked its representative in Australia to demand a retraction.

“The Government Information Office has protested to (the federation) for its un-checked reports,” the information office said in a statement.

Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Jerry Norton

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