Taiwan | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Taiwan

Taiwan

Freedom of the Press 2009

2009 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

23

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

9

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

7

Taiwan’s media environment is one of the freest in Asia, with a vigorous and diverse press that reports aggressively on governmental policies and alleged official wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the overall environment deteriorated in 2008 due to heightened polarization, apparent government efforts to influence the editorial content of publicly owned outlets, and assaults on journalists by state and nonstate actors during demonstrations surrounding the November visit of a Chinese envoy. The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press, and the government and independent judiciary generally respect these rights in practice. While publications from mainland China are subject to screening and potential import bans by the Government Information Office (GIO), numerous materials from China were available in stores as well as on the internet.

Given that most Taiwanese can access about 100 cable television stations, the state’s influence on the media is, on balance, minimal.Print media are completely independent, and following reforms in recent years, broadcast media are no longer subject to GIO licensing and programming reviews. Nonetheless, a series of incidents during the year pointed to government efforts to exert control over the editorial content of publicly owned media. International watchdogs raised concerns in September when the former spokesperson for President Ma Ying-jeou’s electoral campaign was appointed as deputy president of the Central News Agency (CNA), a publicly owned news outlet known for its impartial coverage in an otherwise highly partisan media landscape. CNA staff later reported receiving editorial directives to alter certain content, and local media monitoring groups noted that criticism of the government in the agency’s coverage appeared to be markedly toned down in the latter part of the year. The parliament, dominated by Ma’s Kuomintang (KMT) party, froze half of the budget of the Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) for much of the year. In December, two parliamentary committees approved a KMT resolution requiring item-by-item government approval of programming budgets for PTS and several of its affiliates; the bill was pending at year’s end. In a positive development, following the Council of Grand Justices’ 2006 decision to strike down guidelines for the composition of the National Communications Commission, a new group of commissioners was confirmed by the legislature under revised rules and began work in August.

Taiwanese media regularly criticize government policy and top officials. Reports on high-level corruption were particularly common in 2008, including scandals implicating former president Chen Shui-bian and his family members and associates. However, political polarization of media coverage appeared to increase amid hotly contested legislative and presidential elections in January and March and the controversial visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin in November. Media observers have also raised concerns over a rise in sensationalism and a potential loss of quality, including a trend toward premature “trial by media” in cases of alleged corruption that have yet to work their way through the courts.

Physical violence against journalists is rare, and both local and foreign reporters are generally able to cover the news freely. During the year, the authorities decided to expand the number of mainland Chinese news outlets permitted to station journalists on the island, adding five regional outlets to the five national ones already operating. During Chen Yunlin’s visit in November, however, several reporters attempting to cover protests were injured by demonstrators and police. Chen Yu-ching, a documentary filmmaker, was briefly detained and reportedly injured by police while filming crowds outside the Chinese envoy’s hotel. In another incident tied to relations with the mainland, media watchdogs criticized the United Nations for denying accreditation to Taiwanese journalists seeking to cover the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva in May 2008. Prior to 2004, Taiwanese journalists had reportedly been permitted to cover the event, but authorization was withdrawn under pressure from Beijing.

Taiwan has over 360 privately owned newspapers and numerous radio stations. Satellite television is broadcast on 143 channels. In 2005, cable television was available to 85 percent of the population, the highest level of cable viewership in Asia. According to a study conducted by Shih Hsin University in Taipei, 95 percent of Taiwanese watch television and 75 percent read newspapers. Legislation approved in 2003 barred the government and political party officials from holding positions in broadcast media companies and required government entities and political parties to divest themselves of all broadcasting assets. According to the U.S. State Department, in response to allegations that dependence on advertising revenue and loans from government-controlled banks discouraged some media outlets from criticizing the authorities, President Ma declared that the budget for government advertising should be evenly distributed among media outlets, regardless of party affiliation. In a case that raised concerns over the potential indirect influence of the Chinese government over Taiwanese media, the China Times Group, one of the nation’s largest media syndicates, was acquired in November by the chairman of Want Want China Holdings, a snack and drink company that depended on sales in mainland China. The government refrains from restricting the internet, which is accessed by nearly 70 percent of the population. However, several nongovernmental organizations claim that law enforcement agencies monitor chat-room and bulletin-board exchanges among adults in order to identify and prosecute individuals posting sexually suggestive messages.