The first wave of Taiwan’s media reform movement peaked in the early 1990s with demands for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), government and armed forces to withdraw their influence over its content. In other words, the movement was focused on opposing a party-state media monopoly that had existed under the one-party rule of the KMT.
Media pressure groups at the time felt that these demands might not be enough and they raised some simple yet crucial questions: What was going to happen after the party, government and armed forces pulled out? Who should be responsible for the media?
These pressure groups proposed making the media public by putting media outlets into the hands of the nation’s citizens. Unfortunately this did not become a mainstream idea and the outcome was media policies that were not well thought out and poorly implemented, resulting in the majority the media organizations falling into the hands of capitalists
Recently, a trend toward the concentration of media ownership has prompted a new wave of campaigning for media reform. It is worth noting that although the movement has shifted from opposing a party-state monopoly to fighting capitalist domination, the logic and essence of the movement have not changed.
Opposing capitalist monopoly and combating party-state monopoly is the right thing to do, but the movement is unclear about what direction it wants reform to take to do this. The nation still faces similar questions to those raised in the 1990s: What is supposed to happen after capitalist interests pull out?
The demands being made during the current wave of campaigning are, for the most part, focused on sensitivities regarding certain specific capitalists. The question of what is supposed to happen after capitalist’s pull out has not been raised, let alone answered.
This kind of standstill, or even backtracking, is not unique to social movements or academic circles. The root cause might be that the institutions targeted by such protests have backtracked even further.
Among privately owned media, the Chinese-language United Daily News handled the recent conflict between students and Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) in a disproportionate and negative way.
Since martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwan has seen governments headed by both of the two main parties — the KMT and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the formation of the National Communications Commission (NCC) in 2006. Up until today neither government nor the NCC has managed to propose any progressive media policies or measures for regulation.
The education minister’s recent expression of “concern” about students taking part in protests against media monopoly is worryingly reminiscent of the bad old days.
On the one hand there is the backtracking and conservative nature of the government system and on the other there is the problem that, while the social forces involved might appear radical, in reality they have retreated and are waging a defensive campaign. These two aspects represent the sluggish pace of social progress in the nation. Taiwan’s democracy is not as mature as one might imagine; tricky problems have yet to be resolved.
The most important question is how to overcome the old framework of thinking, so new forces for progress may be brought in and prevent a general retreat across all aspects of society. One cannot expect the forces to come from the system or authorities, so instead, our hopes must lie with society, especially young people, since they are relatively free of the trammels of old cultural norms.
Young people will have their own ideas about how to achieve a breakthrough and all media campaigners have a responsibility to contribute. Here are some suggestions:
First, media reform should not be destructive and without constructive proposals. It is necessary to oppose monopoly and to get more people to understand the negative influences that capitalism has over the media and democracy.
However, it is also important to ask where the nation’s media should go from here. What do anti-monopoly campaigners propose in this regard? This question must thought about, otherwise it would be easy to get stuck in the current simplistic confrontational framework. Those with vested interests in the media would be happy to see this happen.
The second point is that the current campaign against media monopoly has finally started talking about the “China factor.” China’s rise and its impact on Taiwan is an issue that called for attention long ago. These issues should be discussed out in the open. Nevertheless, when facing the China factor in the media field, it is not enough to just oppose it. Such a simplistic approach would only make it harder to resist.
A few days ago the British newspaper the Guardian reported that China is planning to invest heavily in overseas expansion of its state-run media. The report says that China Central Television expects to increase its overseas staff to 500, with an initial budget of US$6.6 billion. Clearly, it is an important time to think about media policies in Taiwan rather than opposing China at every turn.
Wei Ti is an associate professor of mass communications at National Chiao Tung University and a member of the Campaign for Media Reform.
Translated by Julian Clegg