The media should provide a platform for discussion and help foster a consensus on public issues. “For some bigger issues such as whether Taiwan should be independent, we can never reach a consensus because people from both sides seldom listen to each other! But Taiwan media have failed to create a good platform. One day, the Taiwan people will pay,” Lin says.
Even the supposedly politically-neutral public broadcasting service in Taiwan (PTS) is not free of government influence according to Lin. In addition to the fact that most PTS employees have the same political stance as the ruling party, Lin accuses the Ma Ying-jeou administration of exerting “significant but implicit” pressure on PTS.
Critics like Professor Lin are disappointed with the Taiwan media. “Local media have to change!” he says. Citizen and independent journalism could be a channel for change.
In 2010, citizen journalists revealed the government had acquired farmlands from the locals in rural villages by force. Their video clip soon went viral on the Internet. “But the local media did not investigate into such news at the beginning. You could imagine why. Yes, it is because of the KMT government, Taiwan media did not take up their responsibility,” Lin says.
Citizen journalism, a possible hope for the future of Taiwan media, is still in its infancy. Resources are limited, mostly it relies on journalism students who are not yet constrained by the pressures of revenue and readership. Despite all this, Lin remains optimistic and looks forward to positive changes in the industry.
Taiwan’s experience so far would seem to show that press freedom does not necessarily lead to quality journalism. But just as they have the freedom to choose their leader, the people of Taiwan also have the option of saying “no” to media that falls short of expected standards.
The Morning After
We bought two dailies on the day after the election and compared their reporting styles. The first three pages of the pro-KMT United Daily News were full of stories and photos of the re-elected President Ma Ying-jeou. No articles about Ma’s main opponent, DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen was found until page four. In contrast, we noticed that Tsai received significantly more coverage in the pro-DPP Liberty Times. Her photo appeared together with Ma’s on the cover story, followed by three pages of photos of emotional DPP supporters. It also emphasised the narrow margin of Ma’s victory and describes it as the result of “KMT and Chinese Communist Party’s collaboration” in one headline.