Taipei, Taiwan – Creating brand new media outlets from scratch is a huge challenge for any team, but Taipei TaiwanPlus staff is trying to do something more difficult.
From two-minute video clips to culture5-minute films on topics like culture, health, technology and politics, and a half-hour daily news program, they want to have a greater presence for diplomatically isolated Taiwan in the international media space and change democracy abroad.
“For us, our main goal is to tell stories about Taiwan that are not being told in the international media and to tell a fair story for good or bad about Taiwan,” said Andrew Ryan, deputy director of news at TaiwanPlus.
Taiwan’s foreign media coverage has long been built on its relationship with Beijing, which claims the island as its own, and is never referred to as a “country” in the media except at home because of its controversial political status.
Since President Tsai Ying-wen was elected President in 2016, foreign coverage has begun to change in part because of the global resonance of stories-from being the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage in response to Taipei’s successful Covid-1 response.
The political crackdown in China and Hong Kong has helped boost interest in Taiwan as a successful democracy where freedom of speech is valued. Most recently, it has become a 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 30th.
Large cardboard backgrounds with the company’s cross logo and the “// 300” or August0 August number are still featured in the office, which sits in part of the Central News Agency building in central Taipei, which also houses the Associated Press, Agence France Presse and Japan’s Kyodo News.
Starting with less than 20 teams, TaiwanPlus now has more than 700 employees and seems to be growing and spreading to other open spaces.
Next year, the operation will move to a new office where the existing decor-institutional gray carpets, ceiling tiles and fluorescent lighting are expected to have a “start-up” feel instead.
The staff includes journalists from Taiwan and abroad who have experience at major foreign media outlets such as the Associated Press, the BBC, Bloomberg and The Washington Post. Divya Gopalan, director of TaiwanPlus News Center, has previously worked for Al Jazeera.
Soft power projection
Although it is still too early to measure the impact of TaiwanPlus, Chiayon Xu, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Journalism and Public Relations at the University of Oakland in the United States, says there is a lot of potential for Taiwan’s soft power expansion at the outlet.
“I think for every country, they need to work on self-promotion and national branding, they need to work to present themselves to the international audience, and through that as a way to seek international support,” Sue said. “I think it’s especially important for a country like Taiwan, it’s very small and (whose) international status is actually vague.”
TaiwanPlus currently operates as a project of the Central News Agency, a state-owned wire service in Taiwan, and reports to the Ministry of Culture, which will disburse about 200 200 million over the next four years.
TaiwanPlus has been promoted as an “independent” news outlet but its relationship with the government has raised some questions in Taiwan as to whether it will be possible.
In East Asia, the question is particularly prevalent as Hong Kong’s media, once considered a regional hub for media freedom, is under government investigation for covering the city’s 2019 protests and working under the new China-imposed national security law. .
The pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily has been forced to shut down, and in Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK, the appointment of a new director, a working civil servant with no media experience, earlier this year has caused a wave of resignations.
A more patriotic tone has emerged on the editorial page of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s famous English-language newspaper abroad.
The letter wrote in an editorial on Tuesday, “Only one China refuses to acknowledge that China is the cause of cross-strait tensions.” “Unless he rejects his liberal rhetoric and policies, there is no prospect of sure and greater prosperity for Taiwanese.”
Cedric Alvani, director of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific East Asia office, said TaiwanPlus would be a good test of whether it made some critical part of the government and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Others, such as Ja-Nian Huang, an assistant professor at the National Chengchi University who wrote about press freedom in Taiwan, said it should be turned into an autonomous outlet once the current system of outlets with CNA is over.
“The current organizational and financial structure of Taiwan Plus cannot guarantee its independence because of its funding, ownership and executive authority.” “However, this does not mean that there is no autonomy. If the authorities are willing to allow TaiwanPlus to develop without intervention, it will be more autonomous and vice versa. ”
For now, though, Ryan says, TaiwanPlus wants to operate as an independent outlet with separate staff, budget and editorial decisions from CNA, although they receive administrative support from their parent organization because they are not yet considered a “legal entity.”
The platform currently has an independent board of commissioners to oversee its work, but Huang said TaiwanPlus should ultimately be placed under an organization like the Taiwan Public Television Service Foundation, whose funding is less involved in government oversight.
“More reforms are needed to ensure its independence. TaiwanPlus represents the nation, not the government or the party,” Huang said.
Protesting the Beijing story
The launch comes in the face of Taiwan’s domestic media’s own struggles.
The island ranks rdf in the RSF’s annual newspaper freedom survey, one place ahead of the United States but one place behind South Korea.
Although government intervention is rare these days, media experts say the widespread sensationalism and misinformation campaign associated with Beijing has tarnished Taiwan’s journalism. The news media is also highly biased and perceived as biased towards the two main political parties in Taiwan.
Both trends have become apparent since the outbreak of Covid-1 of China, as the Chinese-language media played a major role in spreading vaccine skepticism and conspiracy theories about Taiwan’s vaccine shortage, blaming the government and cracking down on global production problems.
“It’s an island with only 2 million people where your seven to eight 2/7 news channels are competing against each other, so there’s fierce competition,” said Chiaonying Xu, an assistant professor in the Department of Communications, Journalism and Public Relations. At the University of Oakland in the United States.
TaiwanPlus, however, will compete in a world of government-approved outlets such as Voice of America, France 224, China’s CGTN and Iran’s Press TV – who look abroad to find their listeners with English-language content.
Due to the limited budget of TaiwanPlus, its activities are smaller than its counterparts and 24-hour news coverage does not seem to be working soon.
Publicly available traffic data compiled by US marketing agency SEMRush shows 324,400 site visits in September and 75,600 unique visitors during an average visit time of about 13 minutes. Its two YouTube channels, which have much the same content, have garnered nearly 7,000 subscribers and 123,000 views.
Even with its more modest ambitions, however, experts like Huang say, TaiwanPlus may still be able to make an impact as it becomes an established media outlet, especially providing a counter-statement to Beijing-backed media abroad.
It may also prove popular with Taiwanese and ethnic Chinese expatriates, as many live in English-speaking countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.
“Taiwan has a (limited) English audience, so it won’t affect the domestic media too much. Taiwan Plus is the English media that targets an international audience, including English-speaking foreigners and expatriate Taiwanese and Chinese, “he said, so they are hoping to provide an alternative source of information on China’s foreign campaign and Taiwan’s point of view, such as CGTN.” ”