World Media 2006: Taiwan

A lack of government regulation, the proliferation of TV channels and newspapers, and a general penchant for sensationalism make Taiwan's media market one of the most chaotic in the world.

Relative international isolation and enormous prosperity have turned Taiwan's media scene into a hugely competitive hothouse of a market. There are four main commercial television networks but the territory has a high cable penetration (in excess of 85 per cent) and there are scores of cable channels. Their basic currency is sensationalism and in this they go head to head with more than 300 daily newspapers.

Couple this with the fact that Taiwan, in its desperation to prove it is the antithesis of its gigantic neighbour, the People's Republic of China, has few media restrictions (certainly none covering such paltry matters as taste and decency) and you have a recipe for media mayhem.

Camera crews roam the corridors of hospitals looking for gore (after all, it saves time chasing ambulances) and even the nation's more sedate journalists are famed for the sort of aggressive rudeness that would make Jeremy Paxman blush. Sir Elton John, after falling victim to a 2004 media ambush while on tour, politely understated the case when he described the assembled Taiwanese reporters and paparazzi as "rude, vile pigs".

Last year, however, the government decided to act by refusing to renew seven of the 69 broadcast licences up for review - the theory being that the seven refusals would fire a warning shot across the bows of the rest of the industry. Predictably, all that happened as a result was the remaining 62 stations ganged up on the government department responsible for issuing the licences, accusing it of secrecy and duplicity.

But the ongoing dispute about how to achieve a balance between censorship and freedom took a new turn last December. It was rumoured that the People's Republic of China had provided secret funding to China Times Group, Taiwan's largest newspaper publisher, in its acquisition of one of the country's biggest terrestrial television networks.

If true, this would contravene Taiwanese law. But China does not recognise Taiwan as an independent nation state, rather a renegade province, and has become angered by the increasingly aggressive anti-Beijing stance taken by Taiwanese media.

Beijing, it goes without saying, has hundreds of missiles trained on Taiwan. Which means this could end up being the most important media dispute in world history.

ADVERTISING EXPENDITURE USdollars million at current prices. All years based on US$1= NT$33.4. *Estimated Total TV News- Maga- Radio Outdoor Online papers zines 1994 2,193 820 937 140 102 195 0 1995 2,428 868 1,147 150 119 145 0 1996 1,298 729 384 120 66 0 0 1997 1,532 770 542 145 75 0 0 1998 1,938 1,044 634 176 82 0 0 1999 1,779 966 565 183 64 0 0 2000 1,793 920 562 216 69 0 26 2001 1,939 957 650 212 94 0 25 2002 1,961 1,141 437 246 108 0 29 2003 2,145 1,301 417 283 110 0 33 2004 1,751 716 543 192 104 138 59 2005 1,814 738 552 199 105 145 73 2006* 1,893 768 563 209 106 155 90 2007* 1,990 806 583 215 109 169 107 2008* 2,103 857 609 220 112 188 117 Adspend notes 1) Includes agency commission until 2003. 2) Excludes production costs. 3) Includes classified until 1995; recruitment, classified and charity ads excluded from 1996. 4) Before discounts until 1995. 5) Radio an agency estimate from 1996. 6) 2003 internet an agency estimate. FACTFILE Highest circulating titles - Newspaper: Liberty News (daily, 1,300,000 copies) - Business magazine: Business Weekly (136,000 copies) - Consumer magazine: Basic Studio Classroom (monthly, 290,000 copies) Top TV shows - Most watched TV programme (2004): Unforgettable Memory - Best new TV format: Everyone Wins - quiz show Major measurement tools - Circulation: All circulation figures are publishers' claims - Readership: Nielsen Media Research - TV viewing: AC Nielsen Main media owners - Newspapers: China Times, United Daily News, Liberty Times - Magazines: China Times Weekly - Television: PTS (public), FTV, TTV, CTS, CTV

THE LOWDOWN

Media topic du jour: Are Taiwan's journalists completely out of control?

Reigning media guru and why: Pasuya Yao, the head of the Taiwanese government's information office (and therefore its minister in charge of media affairs), has been handed a near impossible task - to encourage better codes of behaviour from major media outlets without threatening Draconian steps against freedom of the press.

Media mogul to be seen dining with: Jimmy Lai, the acerbic newspaper tycoon who baled out of Hong Kong when British rule came to an end. He is now continuing his campaign against the People's Republic of China through his Taiwanese media assets.

Car to drive: Lexus.

Phone to carry: LG U880.

Whatever you do, don't say: The Olympics in Beijing? Good choice.

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