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Taiwan: A Great Story to Report

The government magazine "Taiwan Review" interviewed me for this report about foreign correspondents living and working in Taiwan.

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Taiwan: A Great Story to Report

  1. 1. ::: Taiwan: A Great Story to Report Publication Date:08/01/2011 By line:AUDREY WANG Foreign reporters find excitement and challenges in telling Taiwan’s story to audiences worldwide. “From the very first moment arriving in Taiwan, I was very much hooked by what’s happening here,” says Klaus Bardenhagen, a freelance journalist for several German TV and radio stations, describing his first trip to the island in March 2008, just two weeks before that year’s presidential election. “I saw all the campaigning going on. I saw all the posters, the campaign rallies, all parties mobilize their supporters,” he says. “It immediately made me very interested.” Bardenhagen came to Taiwan on a three-month scholarship sponsored by the Government Information Office (GIO) designed to help international reporters learn Mandarin and boost their understanding of the country. Landing on the island right in the middle of all the election excitement, the German journalist says the experience prompted him to spend quite a lot of time learning about the political situation and history of Taiwan. “In the end, I discovered that Taiwan is a very interesting country for a lot of reasons. And I still don’t know enough; I still want to know more,” he says. Klaus Bardenhagen, a freelance German journalist based in Taiwan The German reporter returned to the island again in 2009 as a freelance (Photo by Huang Chung-hsin) journalist and has stayed ever since. For such first-hand news seekers, reporting from another country is exciting work in itself. On top of that, many of them saythat Taiwan’s good living environment makes their stay more comfortable, while its increasing level of democracy and ahigh degree of press freedom inspire them to keep reporting on the island to audiences worldwide. Among the many things that intrigue Bardenhagen, he says stories connected to cross-strait developments can often catch immediate attention from overseas audiences. As many people around the world are interested in mainland China and know about issues such as Internet censorship and people being arrested there, Bardenhagen says, when he points out Taiwan’s democratic political system in contrast to mainland China’s state control, people usually want to know more about how similar issues are dealt with in Taiwan. In particular, Taiwan’s vibrant election culture not only made a strong first impression on the German journalist, but also went on to become one of the The intense campaign rallies during the 2008 presidential election made topics he is interested in. “My feeling was that, maybe it was because Taiwan is a strong impression on German still a young democracy, so everybody was very much emotionally invested,” he reporter Bardenhagen when he first says. “No matter which side they belong to, everybody feels that they’re really arrived in Taiwan. (Photo by Central News Agency) changing the course of history by the way they’re voting because there are very different sides to choose from.”In addition to reporting on local politics, Robin Kwong, the Taipei correspondent of the UK-based Financial Times, says hehas come across many attention-grabbing news stories during his three years of reporting from Taiwan. In some ways, the subject matter that foreign correspondents cover reflects Taiwan’s recent political and economic development. Cross-strait relations have seen significant improvement since President Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, to the extent that Taiwan’s exchanges with mainland China have gradually fallen off the news agenda over the last year or so, Kwong says. “By now, everybody knows that [cross-strait relations] are good. So, going from a good relationship to a slightly better relationship isn’t so exciting anymore.” As a result, Kwong says, apart from feature stories, he has shifted the focus of his news reporting from cross-strait and political issues to local businesses and the technology sector. Taiwan’s diverse cultural activities, Taiwan occupies a stronghold in the world technology industry, Kwong explains, such as traditional glove puppetry, often catch the attention of as it is the headquarters of many technology giants such as Taiwan international correspondents. Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., HTC Corp., Acer Inc., Asustek Computer (Photo by Central News Agency) Inc. and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd. “Ninety percent of notebook computers in the world are made by Taiwanese companies, so it still matters ifsome companies can’t fill their orders. Then, even if you’re a US company, you will be impacted if something happens inTaiwan.”Albert Tsung-chieh Liu, director of the GIO’s Information and Liaison Office, heads the government agency that acts as ageneral point of contact for foreign journalists and can assist them with a wide range of matters connected to their workin Taiwan. Liu has noticed that as the tensions across the Taiwan Strait have eased, there is more media interest in thepossible effects of the deepening cross-strait ties on trade and the economy of Taiwan and within the Asia-Pacific region,rather than the cross-strait military threat. Kwong notes that Taiwan’s diverse local culture is also a source of many interesting news stories. “You’re not stuck to just writing about one single type of story,” he says. The journalist cites the example of Pili International Multimedia Co., a family-run business that has transformed the traditional art of glove puppetry into a commercially successful television enterprise. Echoing Kwong’s remarks, Bardenhagen says that Taiwan’s political and economic achievements during the 60 years since the Republic of China (ROC) government relocated to Taiwan have given reporters a large amount of interesting material to work with. Among the stories he has covered, Bardenhagen says he has been attracted to topics such as how Taiwan copes Local and international reporters visit a grouper farm in Pingtung with unemployment and a low birth rate, the government’s environmental County, southern Taiwan as part of efforts and how much parents in Taiwan value children’s education. a tour organized by the GIO in June this year. (Photo by Chang Su- “In terms of economy, democracy, society and living environment, Taiwan has ching) moved from a very traditional society to a very liberal society where women don’t have to justify [why] they want to work. The way [Taiwan has] Asia’sbiggest gay parade in the streets … these are all experiences that made me feel positive about Taiwan,” Bardenhagensays. Liu says the GIO organizes dozen of tours each year to help visiting journalists cover current events. In the last year, these events have included the Taipei International Flora Expo, Hakka Tung Blossom Festival, Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival and the Mazu pilgrimage, just to name a few. Taiwan’s free media environment is another big advantage for journalists. The GIO’s Liu says no particular restrictions are imposed on foreign reporters stationed in Taiwan, who can obtain media credentials as long as they are verified as a legitimate employee of a registered media organization. Although they have to renew their press status every year, Liu says, there is no limit on the total time span they can stay on the island as a foreign journalist. Currently, there are more than 120 foreign correspondents posted in Taiwan representing more than 60 media agencies from 13 countries and regions. Complete Freedom Journalists stationed in Taiwan enjoy complete freedom to file reports and news commentaries, with government officials seldom getting upset about small Taiwan’s cutting edge in high tech errors or words that they dislike, says Ralph Jennings, chairman of the Taiwan industries, especially computers, Foreign Correspondents Club (TFCC). Jennings has been reporting from Taipei gives reporters a large amount of since 2006 and has worked for Reuters and the US-based International Data materials to work with. (Photo by Group (IDG) News Service. With the help provided by the GIO, foreign reporters Central News Agency) can gain open access to news conferences, media releases and basic background information on request, Jennings says. It is especially helpful for the journalistswhen GIO staffers are able to put them directly in touch with officials in charge of a particular news issue, he adds.“These advantages differ sharply from certain other Asian countries,” he says.However, foreign correspondents in Taiwan still face a few difficulties in getting information from government agencies ina timely manner, Jennings says. “Some ministries consider foreign media unimportant or not influential enough. Or theyjust don’t know about us,” he says. In other cases, public sector staffers delay or ignore reporters’ requests simplybecause they fret over the quality of the English translations they have to offer, assuming that foreign correspondents donot read Mandarin, Jennings adds. The situation creates an obstacle for journalists working on tight deadlines, heexplains, and it is in fact a wrong stereotype because most of the correspondents posted in Taiwan are equipped with acertain level of Mandarin language ability. Another common problem that has come to the attention of the club is that lower-ranking public relations officers in the private sector are often unauthorized to answer questions from the media on behalf of their companies. “The CEOs usually trust only their ‘next of kin,’ such as a VP or the CFO, with giving official comments to the media. But such high-ranking people may be impossible to reach for days, setting back the collection of basic info for stories,” Jennings says. “If you look at Japan, the US or other developed societies, you’ll find that the low-ranking publicist can speak on the record in a spokesman’s role.” Despite these challenges, Jennings says reporters who are willing to make the effort can usually break through such barriers. Robin Kwong of the Financial Times says Taiwan’s liberal environment and friendly people still make it easy for foreign journalists to travel in the country and get the stories they are interested in. On a personal level, Bardenhagen says that choosing to report from another country has expanded his horizons, as it has given him a whole new work experience he would otherwise have missed. “You know, we reporters are always interested, always want to learn something new and meet new people, Robin Kwong, Taipei correspondent but doing it in another country is like taking it to another level. It gets even of the UK-based Financial Times more diverse, more challenging and also more interesting,” he says. (Photo by Huang Chung-hsin) Looking to the bigger picture, Bardenhagen says he would like to spread themessage of Taiwan to more readers. “When I see that so many people don’t know about this, maybe they still think‘Made in Taiwan’ means cheap plastic products, or Taiwan is just one of those Southeast Asian countries where there aremany poor people. I think that’s not fair,” Bardenhagen says. “I think Taiwan deserves better. That’s why I would like todo my part by giving people better information.”Celebrating Taiwan’s Progress at the 2011 IPI World Congress More than 300 publishers, editors and journalists from all over the world will have an opportunity to examine the latest developments in the media and news industry this September in Taipei at the 2011 World Congress and 60th general assembly held by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI). The meeting presents an important forum for journalists to learn more about relations between Taiwan and mainland China and the East Asia region as a whole. A media technology exhibition will also be held parallel to the meeting. Founded in 1950, the IPI is a global network dedicated to the promotion of press freedom and the improvement of journalism practices, with members from more than 120 countries. The Republic of China (ROC) chapter of the IPI was established in 1969 when Taiwan became a member of the organization, with Wang Ti-wu, founder of the United Daily News Group (UDNG), as the first chairman. The 2011 IPI congress is scheduled to get underway this September in “Being able to host the IPI congress was a goal Wang always strived for as he Taipei. (Photo Courtesy of 2011 IPI believed organizing the event would help the international media better Host Committee) understand Taiwan,” says George K. Shuang, secretary-general of the 2011 IPI Host Committee and president of the United Evening News, one of UDNG’spublications. It was not until 1999, three years after Wang passed away, that Taiwan gained the opportunity to host anIPI meeting for the first time.According to Charles W. Lee, director of the Department of International Information under the Government InformationOffice, one of the partners of the 2011 IPI congress, winning the bid to host this year’s meeting is a great honor forTaiwan and a significant acknowledgement of its free media environment. Media restrictions have been greatly relaxedon the island since the lifting of martial law in 1987, Lee points out. “Since then, the role of the government has changedfrom an overseer of the media to an agency that assists and provides services to the media,” he says. Wider Range of Opinions For example, Lee says, the promulgation of the Cable Radio and Television Act in 1993 has deregulated and helped promote the cable TV industry. Censorship of Taiwan’s print media also ended when the Publication Act was abolished in 1999. These efforts helped the local media sector to flourish, Lee says. In addition, the government has taken an increasingly tougher stance on prohibiting investment in media outlets by political parties, government agencies and the military, Lee says, which means that a wider range of opinions are expressed and heard today. The main theme of the 2011 IPI congress is “The Asian Media Century? 21st Century Developments from New Technologies to Press Freedom,” with a special emphasis on development in East Asian countries. ROC President Ma Ying-jeou and Premier Wu Den-yih have been scheduled to deliver the opening and closing speeches, respectively. In between, a lineup of speakers from the news industry and renowned figures from the worlds of politics, business and academia will take part in various discussion sessions. The rise of new media and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will be among the topics slated for discussion, including the challenges they pose to George K. Shuang, secretary- mainstream media. Another noteworthy panel discussion, titled “Taiwan/China: general of the 2011 IPI Host Committee and president of the Possible Scenarios,” will be dedicated to the efforts Taiwan has made in cross- United Evening News (Photo by strait relations and the country’s progress in political freedoms and media Huang Chung-hsin) reforms in the past 12 years.A thriving information technology industry has helped promote digital convergence and expand press freedom in Taiwan,Lee says. According to the latest Global Information Technology Report released by the World Economic Forum, Taiwanwas ranked sixth in the Networked Readiness Index. The index rates how prepared countries are to use informationtechnology including the availability of that technology. Washington D.C.-based watchdog organization Freedom Househas rated the country’s media environment as “free” in its annual survey for 13 years in a row.UDNG’s Shuang says Taiwan’s sound Internet infrastructure and high penetration of Internet use has contributed to thesuccess of “PeoPo,” a state-sponsored citizen journalist project that has been chosen as one of the discussion topics atthe upcoming IPI meeting. The online platform allows its citizen reporters to cover news events of their choice andupload their reports to its website. Since PeoPo was launched in 2007, it has collected more than 57,000 news reportsfrom nearly 5,000 members. The news content, in general, has remained at a high level through an extensive trainingprogram for citizen journalists and a peer-monitoring mechanism, says Hung Chen-ling, associate professor of theGraduate Institute of Journalism under National Taiwan University (NTU), who has been scheduled to speak on thesubject at the IPI meeting.While the conference participants are expected to benefit from the rich and diverse subjects to be covered at the comingIPI meeting, George Shuang says the best testament to Taiwan’s progress on press freedom might not be anything foundon the meeting’s agenda. “I believe as soon as they take a casual tour around town, they will immediately feel the liberalatmosphere in Taiwan,” Shuang says.—Audrey WangWrite to Audrey Wang at Articles Getting Their Stories Across2011/3/1 Behind Human Rights2001/6/1 Island of Hope2001/6/1 Optimistic Outreach2001/3/1 Substantive Exchange1993/9/1 From the Classroom to the Newsroom1993/6/1 The ROC Celebrates With Confidence1988/12/1 Escape from a waking nightmare of trial and torture1984/12/1