Birth of the Pan-Green Press
The current split in the political stance of the Taiwan media began to develop after the end of the martial-law period, during which dissent was not tolerated in the media. The lifting of martial law in 1987 saw the growth of newspapers and TV news channels inclined to the Pan-Green coalition.
The long-suppressed local Taiwanese finally gained press freedom as Taiwan moved towards democracy in the late 1980s and founded their own newspapers like Liberty Times and TV channels such as Sanlih E-Television. However, the hostility between the two sides was harder to eradicate and the current state of the media reflects that
Apart from the prevalence of partisan politics in the media, the ‘trivialisation’ of TV news reporting is also pervasive. For instance, it is not at all surprising to find a report on the presidential election immediately followed by a ‘news’item about the release of a pop singer’s new album.
The Taiwan media are famous for their obsession with amusing and heart-warming anecdotes.
“Why didn’t you kiss your wife?” was the first question asked by a local television reporter, after Ma Ying-jeou had just finished addressing cheering crowds at his campaign headquarters in Taipei after the election result was announced.
Instead of just focusing on how his victory might affect cross-straits relations, Taiwan reporters asked Ma questions like “how will you reward your wife for her long-time support?”
Such ‘cultural differences’ caused several Hong Kong reporters covering the presidential election in Taipei to roll their eyes. They said they would have been given a talking-to if they had asked the Chief Executive candidates the same questions.
“What is the point of this question?” said one Hong Kong reporter, “I guess it is again the debate of ‘public interest’ and ‘interest of the public’ in journalism.”
Many Taiwanese, however, are used to watching “serious” news and showbiz gossip in the same news programme.
“You may be baffled by this kind of programming but the Taiwan audience is used to the style,” says a business student surnamed Zhu.. “I guess mature citizens have the ability to tell the significant from the trivial.”
Zhu says most Taiwanese care about politics as well as the entertainment industry, so the news programmes are just giving the audience what they want. “I don’t see these two are in conflict. I wouldn’t want the same type of news all day long.” But Zhu admits that this kind of programming might lower the quality of serious news.
Lo Ven-hwei, journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explains the ‘trivialisation’ stems from the proliferation of 24-hour television news channels on the island. “There are seven television channels running news 24 hours a day. Since there are not many newsworthy stories to report, a newscast often becomes packed with soft and human interest stories,” Lo says.
National Chengchi University journalism professor Lin Yuan-huei says such an environment is not conducive to the rational public discussion of important issues. People tend to blame those who take a different political stance. “Someone may say ‘I don’t like this policy because he is from the Pan-Greens’, it is obviously not a good way to discuss and debate,” says Lin.