On March 21, not long after Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) concentrated power in his own hands, China Media Group, also known as the “Voice of China” — a combination of China Central Television, China National Radio and China Radio International — was founded. With increased scale and centralization, the state broadcaster is set to “tell China’s story well.”
Looking at Taiwanese media, freedom and democracy have resulted in a large number of media outlets. However, they have also created excessive competition and a weaker media landscape that is unable to tell Taiwan’s story well.
The situation is becoming urgent with the looming threat of the Voice of China — it is time to get rid of the illusion that a free media market is the only way to safeguard Taiwan’s democratic system.
An independent and professional public service media system that is shared by all must receive support. This is key in the fight to defend Taiwanese values.
“Public service media” is not “state media.” To avoid confusion, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) when reporting the founding of the Voice of China explained the differences between the giant Chinese state broadcaster and the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster.
“The credibility of media outlets is related to their sources of capital to a degree, and they can be divided into publicly run, privately run, independent and mouthpiece broadcasters,” the report on BBC Chinese said.
“The BBC for example, is funded by taxpayers, and the fairness and independence of its reporting guidelines are guaranteed by the Royal Charter. The platform is also free from the pressure of advertising and ratings internally. These arrangements mean that it is unlikely that its freedom will suffer as a result of capital erosion, and it is run independently from government propaganda channels and thus avoids deteriorating into the mouthpiece of any party or administration,” it said.
There are many examples of capital erosion. Taiwanese media and even artists, such as singer Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜), director Leon Dai (戴立忍), actor Lawrence Ko (柯宇綸) and the terminated The Talking Show (大話新聞), have no choice but to bow to China to maintain access to that market.
Capital has no color and businesspeople have no homeland; if media operators only consider the business perspective, then Taiwanese values will become buried in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan is still a young democracy and the reason it tolerates the media’s orientation toward profit and vulgar programming is that many Taiwanese are still haunted by the party-state’s past control over the media and people’s thoughts.
Voice of China is casting a dark shadow from the other side of the Taiwan Strait and Beijing is using business to achieve its political goals through its “31 incentives” for Taiwanese.
Taiwanese values can only be truly protected by breaking away from the mental framework that looks at commercial media as the best solution and relying on democratic procedures to invest sufficient operating funds to build a professional and independent public service media system that ensures that the marketplace of ideas will not be hijacked by business interests.
For example, if the nation establishes a strong public media system, artists who support Taiwanese independence would have a stage to show the world their talent, and those who choose to stand by Taiwanese values and irritate Beijing could avoid committing career suicide.
In addition, news media outlets would not be forced to divide the market and cater to the blue or green camps, thereby hurting the quality of public policy debate.
Taiwan will pay the price if it wants to protect its values, but it would be a bargain if David could beat Goliath by spending NT$10 billion (US$340.5 million) per year to support a public service media group in the face of the Voice of China and Chinese state censorship.
Since Beijing has strengthened its control over the party-state media, Taiwan will inevitably face greater pressure when fighting for its self-awareness.
The ruling and opposition camps should quickly agree to move toward a stronger public service media on the basis of the Taiwan Broadcasting System’s six channels consisting of the Public Television Service and the Chinese Television System.
The legislature should pour more resources into public media, so that outlets that are suffering serious budget shortages will be able to tell Taiwan’s story well and become cultural carriers that protect Taiwanese values.
Eve Chiu is a board member of the Public Television Service, the Chinese Television System and the Campaign for Media Reform.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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