The Taiwanese government is investigating a local TV news station after it broadcast alarming false reports of a Chinese invasion against the self-ruled island.
During a Wednesday morning newscast on the government-affiliated Chinese Television System (CTS), part of the public Taiwan Broadcasting System, the network showed several fictional news stickers about China firing missiles at the capital, Taipei.
“New Taipei City has been hit by communist army missiles; The port of Taipei has exploded, facilities and ships have been damaged,” reads one of the tickers. “It is suspected that enemy agents committed arson and placed explosives at Banqiao train station.”
Another ticker said: “The Chinese communists have stepped up their preparations for war and the president of (Taiwan) has issued an emergency order.”
The erroneous reports come as Taipei raises concerns about China’s possible military actions against the island following the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. Communist-ruled China says Taiwan — a democratic island of 23 million people — is an inalienable part of its territory, despite never having ruled it.
Communist authorities in Beijing have refused to rule out the use of force to control Taiwan and have put military pressure on the island by flying fighter jets into the air defense identification zone and organizing naval exercises around it.
Last week, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) held joint combat exercises around Taiwan when a group of six bipartisan US lawmakers met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei.
US support for Taiwan, especially through arms sales, has infuriated Beijing.
Taiwan maintains its determination to defend itself against all forms of aggression. Last week, Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense released a civil defense handbook describing how residents should respond in the event of a military conflict.
On Wednesday, after the false reports flashed onto the screen, CTS issued a public apology, saying the messages were created for use during fire drills and were not intended to be broadcast to the public.
The network also ran news stickers falsely claiming that panic buying had occurred throughout Taiwan as a result of the military conflict and that a magnitude 7 earthquake had struck New Taipei City.
In a public apology released later on Wednesday, CTS said: “In addition to urgently clarifying and apologizing to our public through our anchors, CTS has also broadcast our apology on our various channels. We have also punished relevant personnel, supervisors and managers for dereliction of duty.”
The erroneous report was widely shared on social media platforms, with some calling for the TV station to be investigated.
Taiwan’s National Communications Commission said in a statement that CTS is suspected of violating public order laws. It said it is launching an investigation into the incident.
The commission said it has received 10 complaints from viewers, adding that the network could be fined up to 2 million NTD (US$68,530) for its violations.
Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said in parliament on Wednesday that he was “surprised” by the incident and urged the public to verify information before making comments.
“This is a good lesson for our friends in the media industry,” he said.