Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taiwan’s media divide and the threat of advertisement denial

More and more, media outlets that toe the official line are rewarded with ad placements, while those that refuse to do so are punished by the denial of such revenue

If you want to know how the nexus of big money, corporations, and China intends to elbow out the free press in Taiwan, you need look no further than the front pages of Monday’s major Chinese-language dailies.

The contrast could not be more evident. On one side you find the Liberty Times and the Apple Daily; the former is associated with the “green camp,” while the latter is for the most part “colorless” and regards everybody as fair game for criticism.

The Aug. 19 front page of the Apple Daily is entirely dedicated to the events from the night before, starting with the large protest on Ketagalan Blvd against forced evictions and the subsequent occupation of the Ministry of the Interior building. The Apple Daily complements its front page with a total of nine pictures of the events. None of this is surprising, as of all the major Chinese-language dailies in Taiwan, the Apple Daily has by far had the most sustained and in-dept coverage of the months-long series of protests.

For its part, the Liberty Times dedicates a little less than half its front page to the protests, accompanied by two pictures. Despite the space given on the front page, activists have been rather critical of the Liberty Times’ coverage of the protests over the weeks, which we can partly explain by the fact that the owner of the Liberty Times Group is also a major land developer.

The two other main dailies, the United Daily News and the China Times, tell a very different story. In fact, they tell no story at all, as the front pages of both carry a full-page ad by Chanel. There is nothing surprising here, as both publications have repeatedly downplayed, if not altogether ignored, the protests on land issues, and both are close to big business, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and China.

In a free society with a free press, what editors put on the front page is for them to decide, and we can assume that those decisions reflect the preferences of the audience that pays for the product. But there is something else, something far more worrying, about Taiwan’s media divide — advertising revenue.

More and more, and as China exerts its influence on Taiwan’s media environment, revenue will be an important factor in the viability of news organizations. Media outlets that toe the corporate/government/China line will be rewarded with ad placements, while those that refuse to do so will be punished by the denial of such revenue. Over time, the impact on the media environment could be severe, with outlets that continue to regard the press as an instrument by which to speak truth to power see their advertising revenue dry out, while those that choose to engage in an complicit relationship with the powers that be, or that self-censor for the benefit of the rich and the powerful, are showered with highly profitable ad placements. The greater Taiwan’s financial dependence on China, the more serious will the revenue crisis become within the media industry, and consequently, the greater the pressure will be on editors to avoid “problematic” news articles.

Yes, in this day and age, this is a problem that media organizations all over the world are facing. But in Taiwan’s case, there is an additional (external) variable, and that is China’s desire to eradicate Taiwan’s democratic way of life, and along with it its free press. (Photo by the author)

No comments: