The media environment in Taiwan is one of the freest and most competitive in Asia. Though mainland China continues to exert economic and political pressure on some outlets, Taiwan has been building up democratic defence mechanisms. Meanwhile, local news publishers are looking for government help in negotiations over money with global tech platforms.
Taiwan’s deregulated media landscape is noted for high competition in cable TV news - there are currently 18 round-the-clock news channels, with more planned as tycoons seek greater political and economic influence. They are all privately owned and commercially operated with the exception of the public Chinese Television System (CTS) (offline use 17%).
The media remain vulnerable to Chinese influence. The owners and shareholders of some news channels, including TVBS (45%) and China TV News (23%), have business interests in China and adopt pro-Chinese Communist Party positions. Additionally, as cable TV advertising revenues have fallen (by 9.4% in 2020), there have been worries that some stations might receive subsides from Beijing, especially during elections.
Claiming to safeguard Taiwan’s democracy, the government has taken measures to combat these possible Chinese influences. In 2020, the legislature passed the Anti-Infiltration Act, which prohibited the spreading of disinformation which would interfere with elections at the instigation of, or with financial support from, hostile external forces. An application from Mirror Media for a licence for a new channel was approved with the condition that it must not accept direct or indirect instructions, investments, or sponsorships from any foreign influence.
While TV news is competitive, legacy newspapers in Taiwan had more trouble navigating the digital environment. Newspaper advertising revenues fell by up to half in 2020. Partly because of that, and partly because of pressures from China, Apple Daily ceased its print version in May 2022. With the exception of United Daily online (18% weekly reach), most web versions of legacy newspapers are now free to access. They are up against digital-native news sites such as ETtoday online (38%), which offer a free diet of infotainment on subjects such as pets, celebrities, and travel.
News aggregators such as Yahoo! are widely used, along with social media sites. Line (49%), Facebook (45%), and YouTube (40%) are the most widely used networks for news, meaning publishers have become dependent on these platforms to distribute their content. To protect their income, they have been urging the government to take action similar to laws recently passed in Australia, saying that it is not fair for Google and Facebook to receive more than 70% of digital advertising revenues without having to pay the media for content. While the publishers argued for financial compensation, media academics argue this would benefit mainly the bigger publishers who have more bargaining power. A tax model which would collect a levy from the platforms and which could be directed towards a fund for supporting public sector journalism would be more effective, they said, to strengthen democracy and public accountability.1
In response, the Taiwan executive announced initiatives to make the platforms more accountable, including requiring them to produce regular transparency reports about content moderation, algorithmic curation, and their support for quality journalism. The draft of the Act will be published and open to public consultation this year.
Two business news magazines have made progress on trust this year (CommonWealth at 51% in 2021 and 57% in 2022, Business Weekly with 51% in 2021 and 56% in 2022). These magazines covered not only economics but also pressing social issues such as the cost of housing, the problem of elderly care, and also international security. Both magazines have adopted digital-first strategies, with multimedia storytelling on subjects such as China’s military operations near Taiwan. CommonWealth is becoming sustainable financially through subscriptions and high user engagement, and in August 2021, its founder Yun-Peng Yin put her majority shareholding into a trust which will reinvest its profits into the magazine.
Taiwan’s major public broadcaster, the Public Television Service (PTS), the most trusted news brand in previous years in our survey, has fallen to fourth this year, despite still making award-winning content. Political disagreements have blocked its digital transformation, and a caretaker board of directors is not empowered to make the kind of bold innovations the service needs. A young graduate student influencer, who had seen PTS from the inside, used social media to publish observations about its inefficiency, bureaucracy, and low morale. His essays were read by nearly 96,000 readers.
National Taiwan University
Traditional media sources such as television and print are becoming less important, while digital and social media have become more widely used. Aggregators Yahoo! News (40% weekly reach) and Line News (30%) are popular online via web portals and apps.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news (27%) has fallen back after last year’s COVID-19 boost, and remains amongst the lowest in our multi-market survey. In a deeply polarised media landscape, many brands are trusted by one group but distrusted by another. Notable exceptions are business publications CommonWealth and Business Weekly, which have increased their trust levels, bucking overall trends.