2021-10-13 05:04:36 TaiwanPlus tries to change the narrative on self-ruled island | Media News

TaiwanPlus tries to change the narrative on self-ruled island | Media News

Taiwan, Taipei – Creating a brand new media outlet from scratch is a huge challenge for any team, but the TaiwanPlus team in Taipei is attempting something even more difficult.

From two-minute video clips to 45-minute films on topics such as culture, health, technology, and politics, as well as a half-hour daily news program, they hope to increase diplomatically isolated Taiwan’s presence in the international media space and change the way democracy is discussed abroad.

“Our main goal is to tell stories about Taiwan that aren’t being told in the international media, and to tell a fair story about Taiwan, for better or worse,” said Andrew Ryan, TaiwanPlus’s deputy director of news.

Foreign media coverage of Taiwan has long been framed in terms of its relationship with Beijing, which claims the island as its own and is never referred to as a “country” in media except at home due to its disputed political status.

However, since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, foreign coverage has begun to shift, thanks in part to stories with global resonance – from being the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage to Taipei’s successful COVID-19 response.

Political crackdowns in China and Hong Kong have also increased interest in Taiwan as a successful democracy with a strong emphasis on free speech. It has recently become a safe haven for some of the 20 foreign journalists expelled by Beijing since last year.

TaiwanPlus, the island’s first English-language video news platform, officially launched on August 30.

TaiwanPlus produces short videos about Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region, as well as longer programs like ‘Taiwan Made.’ [Supplied]
Another brief program explores the National Palace Museum in Taipei [Supplied].

The large cardboard backdrop with the company’s cross logo and the numbers “8/30” or August 30 still stands out in the office, which is part of the Central News Agency building in central Taipei, which also houses the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, and Japan’s Kyodo News.

TaiwanPlus, which began with a team of less than 20, now has more than 70 employees and appears to be expanding, spilling into other free space.

The operation will relocate to new offices next year, which are expected to have a more “start-up” feel than the current décor — institutional grey carpet, ceiling tiles, and fluorescent lighting.

Journalists from Taiwan and abroad with experience at major foreign media outlets such as the Associated Press, BBC, Bloomberg, and The Washington Post are among the staff. Divya Gopalan, Director of TaiwanPlus News Center, previously worked for Al Jazeera.

Projection of soft power

While it is too early to assess TaiwanPlus’s impact, Chiaoning Su, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations at Oakland University in the United States, believes the outlet has great potential to expand Taiwan’s soft power reach.

“I believe that every country should work on self-promotion and nation branding, projecting themselves to an international audience, and using that as a way to ask for international support,” Su said. “I believe this is especially important for a small country like Taiwan, whose international status is actually ambiguous.”

TaiwanPlus is currently run as a project of Taiwan’s state-owned wire service, the Central News Agency, and reports to the Ministry of Culture, which will distribute approximately $200 million in funding over the next four years.

TaiwanPlus has been promoted as a “independent” news outlet, but its relationship with the government has raised concerns in Taiwan about whether this is possible.

This question is especially pertinent in East Asia, where media in Hong Kong, once regarded as the regional center for press freedom, are under heavy government scrutiny for their coverage of the city’s 2019 protests and working under new China-imposed national security legislation.

Apple Daily, a pro-democracy tabloid, has been forced to close, while at RTHK, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, the appointment of a new director earlier this year, a career civil servant with no media experience, has resulted in a wave of resignations, firings, and program cancellations.

Since China imposed a national security law last June, the media in Hong Kong has been under pressure, with the Apple Daily publishing its final edition in the territory on June 23. [Photo by Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

A more patriotic tone has also crept into the editorial pages of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s most widely read English-language newspaper outside of the city.

“The cause of cross-strait tensions is Tsai’s refusal to acknowledge that there is only one China,” the paper wrote in an editorial on Tuesday. “There is no chance of certainty and greater prosperity for Taiwanese until she abandons her independence-minded rhetoric and policies.”

According to Cedric Alvani, director of Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific East Asia, a good litmus test for TaiwanPlus will be whether or not it produces segments critical of the government and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

Others, such as Jaw-Nian Huang, an assistant professor at National Chengchi University who has written about press freedom in Taiwan, believe that once the outlet’s current agreement with CNA expires, it should be spun off into an independent outlet.

“Taiwan Plus’s current organizational and financial structures cannot ensure its independence because its funder, owner, and executor are all government officials,” Huang explained. “However, this does not imply that there is no autonomy.” TaiwanPlus will be more autonomous if the authorities are willing to let it develop without interference, and vice versa.”

For the time being, Ryan says TaiwanPlus intends to operate as an independent outlet, with separate staff, budget, and editorial decisions from CNA, though they do receive administrative support from their parent organization because they are not yet a “legal entity.”

TaiwanPlus currently has an independent board of commissioners to oversee its operations, but Huang believes that it should eventually be housed under an organization like the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation, whose funding is less dependent on government oversight.

“More reforms are needed to ensure its independence, so that TaiwanPlus represents the nation rather than the government or party,” Huang said.

In response to the Beijing story

The launch comes at a time when Taiwan’s domestic media is facing its own challenges.

On the RSF’s annual press freedom index, the island is ranked 43rd, one spot ahead of the United States but one spot behind South Korea.

While government interference is uncommon these days, media experts say widespread sensationalism and misinformation campaigns linked to Beijing have harmed Taiwanese journalism. News outlets are also viewed as highly partisan, with biases toward Taiwan’s two major political parties.

Taiwan has long been concerned about so-called “red media” outlets, which are linked to mainland China and are associated with propaganda and misinformation. At this 2019 protest, placards read “reject red media” and “protect the nation’s democracy.” [Photo by Hsu Tsun-hsu/AFP]

Both trends have been evident since the outbreak of COVID-19, as Chinese language media has played a significant role in spreading vaccine skepticism and conspiracy theories about Taiwan’s vaccine shortages, which seek to blame the government while avoiding global production issues.

“This is an island with only 23 million people where you have seven to eight 24/7 news channels competing against each other, so there is fierce competition,” said Chiaoning Su, an assistant professor at Oakland University in the United States’ Department of Communication, Journalism, and Public Relations.

TaiwanPlus, on the other hand, will compete with government-affiliated outlets such as Voice of America, France 24, China’s CGTN, and Iran’s Press TV, all of which look abroad for English-language content.

However, due to TaiwanPlus’s limited budget, its operations are on a smaller scale than its competitors, and 24-hour news coverage does not appear to be on the horizon anytime soon.

According to publicly available traffic data compiled by the US marketing company SEMRush, there were 324,400 site visits and 75,600 unique visitors in September, with an average visit time of around 13 minutes. Its two YouTube channels, which share a lot of content, have around 7,000 subscribers and 123,000 views.

Even with its more modest ambitions, experts like Huang believe TaiwanPlus will be able to make an impact as it matures into a well-established media outlet, particularly by providing a counter-narrative to Beijing-backed media.

It may also be popular among the Taiwanese and ethnic Chinese diaspora, as many live in English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, and Australia.

“Because there is a small English audience in Taiwan, it will have little impact on the domestic media.” “Taiwan Plus is the English media that targets the international audience, which includes English-speaking foreigners as well as overseas Taiwanese and Chinese,” he explained, adding that they hope to provide “alternative information resources and Taiwan perspectives to China’s overseas propaganda, such as CGTN.”

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TaiwanPlus tries to change the narrative on self-ruled island | Media News