Freedom of the Press
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Taiwan’s media environment is one of the freest in Asia, and the vigorous and diverse press reports aggressively on government policies and alleged official wrongdoing. In 2015, members of the media sector pushed back against proposals that threatened to restrict coverage of mass demonstrations, and the proposals were ultimately abandoned.
- The courts saw numerous defamation suits against journalists in 2015.
- A proposal by the Taipei police department to establish designated “press zones” at illegal demonstrations was abandoned after media workers sharply criticized it.
- A separate proposal by Taipei’s mayor that journalists wear identifying vests while covering demonstrations was also abandoned, following pushback by media workers.
Legal Environment: 9 / 30
The constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press, and the government and independent courts generally respect these rights in practice.
The publication of defamatory words or pictures is punishable by up to two years in prison. Taiwan’s defamation laws are frequently exploited by politicians who wield them against their adversaries within the politically polarized media landscape. The courts saw numerous defamation suits against journalists in 2015; some of the higher-profile cases targeted political commentator Clara Chou. One case against her was brought by deputy legislative speaker and the eventual presidential candidate of the ruling nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party, Hung Hsiu-chu, after Chou questioned the authenticity of her master’s degree; the case was ongoing at the year’s end. In another, President Ma Ying-jeou sued Chou for defamation after she alleged in late 2014 that Ma had accepted some NT$200 million (US$6.4 million) in secret political donations from Ting Hsin International Group, a business conglomerate that was allegedly involved in several food-safety scandals. In December 2015, the Taipei District Court found Chou innocent, pointing to an article in the Criminal Code stating that defamation cases cannot be pursued if the defendant had ample reason to believe in the veracity of their claims. Ma announced his intention to appeal the decision, and was also pursuing a civil suit against Chou at year’s end. In January 2015, Hon Hai Precision Industry Company chairman Terry Gou brought civil and criminal suits against Chou after she identified him as the anonymous entrepreneur whom Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je claimed donated NT$300 million (US$9.7 million) to the 2014 Taipei mayoral campaign of KMT candidate Sean Lien. Mayor Ko testified that Gou was in fact that entrepreneur. However, the Taipei District Court in August 2015 ruled that Chou had not provided sufficient evidence for the claim and ordered her to pay NT$2 million (US$62,000) in damages and submit a written apology, to be printed in seven major newspapers. The damages awarded to Gou were substantially less than the NT$10 million he had sought. Three months later, the Taipei District Prosecutor’s Office decided not to indict Chou on criminal defamation charges after Gou dropped his criminal suit against her. Chou is appealing the earlier civil-case ruling.
Taiwan’s 2005 Freedom of Government Information Law enables public access to information held by government agencies, including financial audit reports and documents about administrative guidance.
Print media are free from state regulation. Following reforms in recent years, broadcast media are no longer subject to licensing and programming reviews by the Government Information Office, which was formally dissolved in 2012. The National Communications Commission is Taiwan’s main regulatory body, and is tasked with awarding licenses and enforcing broadcasting guidelines. It is generally regarded as independent, though it has faced criticism for some licensing decisions in recent years, and contentious cases draw public and political pressure.
Political Environment: 9 / 40 (↑1)
Taiwan’s media landscape is diverse, but polarized. Most outlets are sympathetic to either the governing KMT or the opposition, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Journalists occasionally face pressure to self-censor on topics of importance to the Chinese government. Many Taiwanese media owners have business interests in China or draw advertising revenue from Chinese companies, making them wary of upsetting Beijing.
In January 2015, the Taipei City Police Department announced that it was considering a new press policy that would have police establish designated “press zones” during rallies. The police also suggested that journalists would be asked to remain inside these press zones while covering illegal demonstrations in order to protect themselves and avoid interfering with police work. Many journalists opposed the idea, saying the zones could be used to restrict their ability to cover newsworthy events. After more than 500 journalists reportedly signed a petition against the proposal, the police department in March announced that it had decided not to establish a press-zone rule.
Taipei Mayor Ko fanned the controversy when he proposed in January 2015 that journalists wear press vests while covering demonstrations, in order to make themselves easily identifiable. Proponents of the idea claimed that it would help protect journalists and minimize conflict between reporters and police. Organizations including the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents Club and the Association of Taiwan Journalists came out in opposition to Ko’s proposal. Critics argued that journalists already carry press cards to identify themselves, sometimes need to maintain a low profile while covering the news, and could risk violence from police and protestors if forced to wear the vests. Ultimately Mayor Ko did not pursue the issue further over the course of the year.
Occasionally, journalists experience interference from officials when performing their jobs. In July 2015, Taipei police arrested three reporters who had followed student demonstrators into Taiwan’s Ministry of Education complex; they were released the same day. Police maintained that the reporters had trespassed because they did not obtain permission from relevant authorities to enter the ministry’s premises. However, Mayor Ko claimed that police had infringed on press freedom, and apologized for the incident.
Physical violence against journalists is rare, and both local and foreign reporters are generally able to cover the news freely. The attacks against journalists that marred the 2014 local elections and that year’s mass demonstrations were not repeated in 2015.
Economic Environment: 8 / 30
Taiwan is home to more than 360 privately owned newspapers, and numerous radio stations. Satellite television systems carry more than 280 channels. 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. The internet is not restricted by the government; about 88 percent of the population accessed the medium in 2015.
Despite public support, efforts to pass an anti–media monopoly act stalled in the legislature in 2013. Lawmakers were unable to reach consensus on the scope of the restrictions, and companies complained that the bill would only target those with significant business activities in China. No substantial progress on the proposed law was reported as of the end of 2015.
In 2014, the Korean private equity firm MBK Partners agreed to sell its majority stake in China Network Systems (CNS), one of Taiwan’s largest cable television operators, to Taiwan’s Ting Hsin International Group. Though there was no reason for authorities to block the deal on competition-related grounds, opponents of the sale argued that it was not in the public interest due to Ting Hsin’s substantial investments in China and the company’s alleged involvement in three major food-safety scandals in 2014. Among other concerns, some feared that Ting Hsin’s control of CNS might discourage Taiwanese news media from reporting on future food-safety scandals. In March 2015, Ting Hsin announced that it had ended its efforts to acquire MBK’s stake in CNS due in part to its belief that the deal was unlikely to get regulatory approval.
American Dan Mintz’s deal to buy a controlling stake in Taiwan’s Eastern Broadcasting Company—the largest privately owned Mandarin-language TV network—from Taiwan-based Eastern Media International Corporation and American private equity firm the Carlyle Group came under heavy scrutiny in 2015. Mintz currently heads DMG Entertainment, which is affiliated with DMG Yinji, a company he founded in China with two Chinese nationals. Many are concerned that Mintz’s business interests in China might negatively impact one of Taiwan’s largest media organizations. The deal was under review by regulators at year’s end.