Taiwanese Media Reform – Ming-yeh Rawnsley, James Smyth and Jonathan Sullivan
Abstract: Alongside a consolidated liberal democracy and dynamic civil society, Taiwan boasts one of Asia’s most liberal and competitive media environments. With cable TV and internet penetration rates among the highest in the world, and twelve 24/7 local TV news channels serving a population of 23 million, media liberalisation in Taiwan is, like democratisation, a success story. However, the pressures of intense commercial competition have created issues around professional ethics and the effects of sensationalism. Longstanding regulatory and ownership issues remain unresolved, including political partisanship across the media-sphere. Like their counterparts in other democracies, Taiwanese media companies are grappling with the transition to digital and the challenge it represents to traditional business models in a heavily mediasaturated society. Mediatised political spectacles, hypermedia political campaigns and communicative abundance are inescapable features of Taiwanese life. The surface vibrancy of Taiwan’s democracy owes much to the trace data produced by the tools of this abundance: the all-news-all-the-time TV channels, politicians’ constant presence on connected devices, student activists mobilising via social media. Taiwanese citizens are by many standards engaged and politically active: they turn out to vote in large numbers, pay attention to the news and are knowledgeable about politics. Yet for all the openness that goes with trailing TV cameras and politicians’ status updates on social media, the media and political communications environments in Taiwan are a cause for concern in terms of the “quality” of their contribution to Taiwanese democracy. In this note, we outline the evolution of the media system as it has experienced two waves of reform, and comment on the prospects for further necessary reforms within a context where digital media is challenging traditional media operations and China casts a shadow over media freedoms.