National Taiwan University
The Taiwanese media market is characterised by some of the highest penetration of pay TV in the world. The democratic role of the media is threatened by a weakly regulated commercial sector and the fear of Chinese influence.
Taiwan’s media system has changed considerably since two newspaper groups and three terrestrial television stations enjoyed oligopoly status in the days of authoritarian rule. In the 1990s, the Taiwanese government adopted a deregulation media policy, which led to multi-channel TV becoming the dominant platform, reaching 85% of households. The newspaper industry, on the other hand, has suffered a steep decline, losing more than half of its readership from 76% in 1992 to just 30% in 2015.1
Over the last decade Taiwan’s traditional news media have been forced to migrate to online platforms, not least because the online advertising market has been growing at around 20% per year.2 A key challenge, however, has been the popularity of online portals and aggregators. Yahoo! News is the most used online news brand. It curates news from multiple sources and combines this with a range of popular services such as email, auction sites, and community-driven question-and-answer (Q&A) forums.
Apple Daily online is the second most used online news brand in Taiwan. It was founded by controversial businessman Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong, where it established a reputation for celebrity coverage, and sensationalist news – as well as a pro-democracy stance. The Taiwanese version has its own identity and adjusts itself to the local market.
A key issue is the alleged influence over politics from mainland China via Taiwanese tycoons who have commercial interests there. As one example, the Want Want group bought the China Times media group in 2009, after which it adopted a pro-China editorial line. The Want Want group also proposed to buy the largest cable system operator, triggering a student-led Anti-Media Monopoly Movement in 2012. But while legislation stalled, other tycoons have continued to invest in Taiwan, with Foxconn Technology Group buying another cable system in February 2017. The ‘China factor’ along with the influence of powerful business leaders casts a long shadow over the Taiwanese news media and their ability to report freely.
Concerns over the independence of commercial media led media scholars and professionals to advocate for a public television system in the 1990s. Taiwan public television (PTS) was established in 1998, and developed into a wider public media consortium after the addition of a terrestrial channel and Hakka TV (a minority-language channel) in 2006. PTS continues to suffer from lack of money, limited viewership, and is subject to some political interference, but PTS news stories are generally trusted by media professionals.3 The PTS online news website Peopo, not only cultivates citizen journalists but also accounts for around one-third of PTS’s total online visitors.
New models for independent media are emerging through digital-born news websites, such as Storm Media and New Talk, established by well-regarded journalists. Most online news media in Taiwan are ad-supported. Some have introduced paywalls for premium content such as in-depth reports or information graphics. Still others maintain their financial stability through seeking reader donations or using crowdfunding, looking to non-profit status as way of creating sustainable journalistic operations. Even so only a minority (15%) of Taiwanese are prepared to pay for online news.
More than half (57%) of Taiwanese citizens use social media for news each week, mainly Facebook, Line, and YouTube. Like many other Asian countries, Taiwan also has a tradition of online bulletin boards (BBS). The most widely used service, PPT, is a non-commercial open source BBS which was founded by students from the National Taiwan University in 1995, and has since attracted 1.5 million registered users. The BBS has over 20,000 boards covering a multitude of topics engaging young people in particular.
In a move that will be studied carefully elsewhere, the government has recently passed a law that would impose additional taxes on foreign (non-Taiwanese) online commercial operators including social media. Some media scholars have suggested that any money raised from these taxes should be spent on supporting independent high-quality journalism.
Reflecting previous authoritarian rule, vicious competition in the media market, and the interventions of owners, Taiwanese people have low trust in the news they read. Recently some lawmakers proposed imposing a law against fake news, but NGO groups protested because of the fear of restricting freedom of speech.
- Calculated from Media Book 2016, published by Media Agency Taiwan, retrieved from www.maataipei.org/upload/1472117411.docx. Readership data from: Advertising Revenues of Newspapers. Brain Monthly 349: 66–75. ↩
- Calculated from Media Book 2016, published by Media Agency Taiwan, retrieved from www.maataipei.org/upload/1472117411.docx ↩
- Media credibility Report 2015, Media Watch Taiwan, retrieved from, http://mediawatch.org.tw/sites/default/files/20150210%E5%AA%92%E9%AB%94%E5%8F%AF%E4%BF%A1%E5%BA%A6%E7%A0%94%E7%A9%B6%E5%A0%B1%E5%91%8A%E5%AF%A6%E5%8B%99%E7%89%88new.pdf ↩