Tensions with China reached a new pitch in the past year, putting the media on an emergency footing. Taiwan has a lively and combative media but there are differences in opinion on how to tackle misinformation, not only between political parties but also between pro-independence and pro-unification media.
As the war in Ukraine continued, tensions in the Taiwan Strait were heightened with worries that China might follow Russia’s lead. Nearly 200 foreign officials visited Taiwan in 2022 to discuss how to contain Chinese ambitions. Following the visits, China stepped up its display of military force, as it pressed its claim to sovereignty over democratically governed Taiwan. Undersea cables linking Taiwan and its outlying Matzu islands near China were severed by Chinese fishing boats. Chinese radio stations also aired messages encouraging Taiwanese to work in China and promoting unification.
Following the October 2022 visit of Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the US House of Representatives, a large number of cyberattacks were carried out on Taiwanese government websites.1 TV displays in some railway stations were hacked to show messages such as ‘The great China will eventually be reunited’. These tactics extended to the media. Formosa TV, a pro-independence news channel, reported a series of cyberattacks. Its websites and YouTube streams were hacked to show pro-Beijing statements including ‘China’s terrestrial sovereignty cannot be interfered by outsiders’.
In response, the Taiwanese Ministry of Defence proposed to revise a national mobilisation act, saying there was a need to manage false information in time of emergency. According to the proposal, once mobilisation was mandated, all media would have to co-operate with government orders and penalties for spreading misinformation would be increased.
While pro-independence publications such as Liberty Times supported the plans, pro-unification media such as United Daily warned that the ruling party might abuse the emergency regulations to suppress press freedom in peacetime.2 Opposition parties blocked the proposals as a result.
Efforts at countering misinformation are not limited to the government though. The Taiwan Fact Checking Center, led by journalists, publishes dozens of fact-checks a week on issues ranging from consumer scares to geopolitical propaganda. Other agencies are stepping up efforts to increase media literacy and have invited citizens to take part. Watchout, an independent media organisation, produces handbooks on how to spot disinformation in a crisis. In October 2022, the founder of Taiwan’s second-largest chipmaker, Robert Tsao, pledged US$20m to provide training to citizens in open-source intelligence and cybersecurity.
The public broadcaster, Taiwan Broadcasting System (TBS), whose Public Television Service (PTS) news brand is among the country’s most trusted, has put itself on high alert to prevent being hacked and to strengthen its operational resilience. It is also expanding and improving its output, including its subscription video-on-demand service PTS+, hoping to make it the most popular local platform for artistic and cultural performances. It has also launched the country’s first English-language TV channel, TaiwanPlus, a venture supported by the Ministry of Culture as part of its mission is to share the country’s perspective internationally. The hope is that the new channel, which TBS hopes to make available in the United States, might help to counter the impact of Beijing’s English-language China Global Television Network (CGTN).
In a crowded market – there are already 19 24-hour news channels in Taiwan, mostly privately owned – only the Chinese Television Station is public. It has made a lot of effort to improve its quality in order to obtain one of the prime positions on cable TV’s electronic programme guides. Commercial operators have suffered from a continuing loss of income, even though Taiwan’s economic growth is strong and digital advertising revenue rose by nearly 10% in 2021. Newspaper advertising income fell by more than 30%, which has worried many about the ability of Taiwanese media to resist Chinese influences. A report by Freedom House said some Taiwanese publications were publishing content arranged, sponsored, or paid for by Chinese authorities.3
Facing declining income, Taiwan’s publishers have got together to lobby the government to help them in negotiations with Meta, Google, and others, arguing that platform operators receive around 80% of the digital advertising revenues in Taiwan without appropriately compensating those that produce the content. The platforms say they gain few profits from news but already make contributions to local journalism. In March 2023, Google launched a US$10m three-year programme to help news providers with digital transformation.
National Taiwan University
Traditional media sources such as television and print have become less important over time while digital news consolidates its position. More and more Taiwanese use YouTube for news – from 38% in 2021 to 44% in 2023 – with most news channel operators now uploading videos there.
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Due to the intense competition in the media market and the interventions of owners, trust in news (28%) remains among the lowest in our survey. In the polarised media landscape, many brands with political colours are less trusted, whereas business publications tend to have higher levels of trust. PTS (55%) remains one of the most trusted brands this year, after internal improvements.