The media landscape in Taiwan has become a corporate battlefield in the last few years, with the independence of the island's press the biggest casualty.
News outlets are bought and merged with so-called “red” capital, or money with ties to mainland Chinese business, staining the news with communist influence. Media groups take political sides in line with their owners, becoming mouthpieces for the Taiwan's two competing political camps, the Pan-Green Coalition and the more conservative Pan-Blue Coalition. But as mainstream media has corroded in Taiwan, citizen journalism has been on the rise with the blessing and participation of mainstream professionals.
Shirley Ho's article, which originally appeared on Hong Kong-based inmediahk.net on March 25, 2013 in Chinese, introduces the Academy of Independent Media, the latest cooperative effort in Taiwan to change the media environment. The trimmed English version has been translated by Cheung Choi Wan and republished as part of a content-sharing agreement.
Last spring, a group of independent journalists and academics in journalism and communication began to plan a school for independent journalists, the Academy of Independent Media. We interviewed Chen Shun-Hsiao, an associate professor at Fu Jen Catholic University in the journalism and communication studies department and one of the founders of the Academy, about its mission.
Taiwan's monopolized media landscape
Chen described the Taiwanese people's discontent and at times outrage with the island's commercial media.
“We have been witnessing traditional media, such as newspaper and TV, turning towards sensationalism one after another because of difficulties in making a profit,” he said. “In some cases, the media even sell news such as embedding commercial and political propaganda in a news report. The government has become their biggest client as the government contracts advertising and marketing services to buy news and influence public opinion.”
He continued: “What the people find more worrying politically is the fact that advertisements paid for by the Chinese Communist Party are found embedded in Taiwan's news. People are also worried about media monopoly in recent years due to merger cases such as the attempt of Want Want China Times Group to acquire the cable TV services operated by China Network Systems; the Next Media merger case; and the failure of the Public Television Service to establish a new board of directors.”
Faced with this depressing mainstream media environment, scholars, students, journalists working for traditional media, and independent online journalists decided to come together to change the swing toward partisan, corporate media.
In the past two years, the civil society has mobilised against media mergers and professional journalists advocated for democratic newsroom as well as defended diversity in news reporting and in speech. Now the Academy wants to build a diverse media ecology by advocating independent journalism.
A fifth estate
The mass media is often called the “fourth estate”. Through fair, objective, and balanced reporting, mainstream media is supposed to monitor government and financial institutions and speak up for disadvantaged social groups.
But when the mainstream media is monopolized by those in power politically and economically, they can no longer play the role of watchdog. Instead, they should be monitored and critiqued by citizens who can make use of the Internet to develop their own media, a “fifth estate”.
The rising influence of citizen journalism in Taiwan gives Chen hope.
He pointed out that “the impact of independent media and citizen journalism on major social issues, such as the Anti Guo-Kuang Petroleum Plant Movement which was ignored by the mainstream and covered mainly by citizen and independent media outlets, has already surpassed that of the mass media. Besides, independent media professionals have been winning important awards in journalism. Recognition for their contribution and professionalism is growing. More and more young people now want to join the rank of independent journalists.”
He continued: “The establishment of the academy is to provide training to people who are interested in becoming independent journalists and to build an ecosphere of independent journalism for a two-pronged assault to resist the monopoly of media by financial groups.”
However, he also pointed out that training is not the only way to support independent citizen journalists. Good reporting needs a new non-commercial form of organisation, community building, and a common space for the accumulation of experience. “The Academy of Independent Journalism will not only teach journalistic skills, but it will also act as an incubator for citizen media organizations and communities, offering workshops and mentoring programs,” Chen explained.
The independent and citizen media movement in Taiwan, which emerged with the rise of the Internet, is diverse. Coolloud [zh], which is mainly concerned with socially disadvantaged groups and labour rights, was established in 1999, its slogan being “media movement, movement media”. There is also the Taiwan Environmental Information Centre [zh], PeoPo Citizen Journalism [zh], PNN PTS News Network [zh], Four Corners [zh] which targets new immigrants, New Talk which aims to expose the relationship between media and political power, and News & Market [zh] which was set up last year.
Various journalism associations now have awards for outstanding independent reporting. Independent media professionals have more opportunities than ever to demonstrate their talents, the Association of Taiwan Journalists has claimed, due to the mainstream media's partisan intimacy with political parties and financial institutions.
The Academy of Independent Journalism plans to strengthen and connect this growing media sector by setting up an Association of Independent Journalists that also provides advice to new independent media organizations and Chen envisioned that “in the long run, the academy aims to set up a ‘free news agency’ composed of independent journalists in different areas of reporting. The vision is that the agency will one day become a journalist-centered platform for news production and dissemination.”