A couple of weeks ago, I went to a conference at the University of Nottingham on Taiwanese politics. (For the record, I left two days before the referendum. Don’t blame me for Brexit. Everything was still in working order when I left the UK!) Among the many fantastic papers was one on Taiwan’s media by Chien-san Feng, Ming-yeh Rawnsley, Jon Sullivan, and James Smyth. Inspired by this paper, I thought I would go back to the survey data to see how respondents have reported consuming media over the years.
These data are from Taiwan Elections and Democratization Study surveys (after 2001) and Election Study Center surveys (before 2000). I only report the results from the quadrennial presidential face-to-face surveys. (1992 was a legislative survey; the 2016 face to face survey data has not yet been released so there is only data on one of the questions from a pre-election telephone survey.) There are two questions that have been asked with relatively few changes in question wording, though the answer response categories have changed quite a bit.
Which newspaper do you read most often?
Which TV station do you watch most often for the news?
Here are the results:
The newspapers are relatively simple. There has been a long and steady decline for the two old authoritarian-era mainstays. I don’t have data for 2016 yet, but my impression is that the United Daily News has steadied itself while the China Times has continued to lose market share (and credibility). The Liberty Times broke through the old duopoly in the mid-1990s and has consistently outsold the two old papers. Nowadays, it has as many readers as the CT and UDN combined. Apple Daily burst on the scene early in the Chen Shui-bian era, and it quickly outstripped the others in terms of circulation. However, its political impact is not quite as large as its circulation. As a pseudo-tabloid, it simply isn’t the place for serious discussion of society’s great questions that the other three majors aspire to be. Finally, there is the black line representing all the other papers. When I first started reading newspapers in the mid-1990s, I had about ten choices every time I went to the newsstand. 首都早報 was gone by then, but we still had 自立早報，民眾日報，台灣時報，中華日報，台灣日報，中央日報，台灣新聞報 in the morning as well as three evening papers 聯合晚報，中時晚報，自立晚報 two financial papers 經濟日報，工商時報 and two tabloid/entertainment papers 民生報，大成報。Only two of the papers in that list (聯合晚報，經濟日報) are still publishing a daily print edition. (Every now and then, I see something called 民眾日報 or 台灣時報 and get really excited, but these are more ad inserts than real newspapers.) It was the golden age of newspapers in Taiwan — martial law had ended and the internet had yet to begin destroying print media. The black line probably underestimates the fragmentation of the media market since respondents could only give one answer. Many of the people who read one of the three major papers also read a smaller one. At any rate, these smaller papers have largely disappeared from the scene. These days, new startups such as Storm.mg go straight to the internet.
To sum up, the newspaper market has undergone massive changes since the early 1990s. The United Daily News is arguably the only constant.
Compared to the TV market though, the newspaper market has been a paragon of stability. There is not a single TV station that is recognizable from 1992. When I came to Taiwan in 1989, there were exactly three TV news sources. All of them had the same political stance. TTV was owned by the provincial government; CTV was owned by the KMT; and CTS was run by the military. Cable TV had existed for over a decade at that point, though it was technically illegal and it certainly did not do anything as daring as produce a news program. In the early 1990s, some of the local cable companies started airing local political talk shows, which quickly became labeled as “democracy TV stations” 民主電台. However, these had a very limited reach. Real change came with the establishment of TVBS, the first national station to present the news without an overt-KMT slant. A few years later, several DPP politicians banded together to start the fourth terrestrial station, FTV. By the early 2000s, several other channels had set up 24 hour news channels. In the face of this intense competition, the old three stations’ grip on the news collapsed. These days, they are all minor players. (CTV, the most resilient of the three, was bought by the Want Want group which also owns cti and the China Times. In other words, CTV isn’t even the most influential media organ or even TV station in that conglomerate.)
Today, there is no single dominant TV news station. TVBS, FTV, SET, and cti are perhaps the four most influential, but even TVBS has less than 15% of the market. Moreover, there is a partisan balance, with TVBS and cti having a blue slant and FTV and SET favoring the green side. (TVBS switched sides in 2005 after being bought by Hong Kong capital. It was recently purchased by HTC boss Cher Wang, but this does not seem to have influenced its partisan stance as yet.) NEXT had been owned by Apple and had usually taken an anti-KMT stance. However, it was recently purchased by ERA, which seems to have an itch for James Soong. We’ll see if their anti-KMT stances change to an anti-DPP stance now that President Ma has left office.
Gosh, this post makes me feel old. The 1992 media world is so far from today’s. It’s as if I’m discussing a world with ticker-tape stock prices, telegraphs, and carrier pigeons.