Against the grain: the battle for public service broadcasting in Taiwan
2012-11-22T16:52:01Z (GMT) by
Over the last two decades public service broadcasting (PSB) around the world has faced increasing pressures from accelerating commercialisation and the fragmentation of the broadcasting landscape. This has led a number of media commentators in the system’s traditional heartlands to ask whether the idea has now outlived its usefulness. Against the grain of this international trend, Taiwan has moved in the opposite direction, democratising its state-owned television system and introducing a form of public broadcasting for the first time. Against the grain of growing enthusiasm for a privatised solution supporters presented PSB as a necessary counter to the perceived deficiencies of the existing system, in serving a society moving from authoritarian to competitive party rule. This study sets out to explore how the expansion of PSB in Taiwan has been socially defined and constructed, and by whom. The various constructions in play were mapped through in-depth interviews with a range of claim-makers involved in the process. A systematic content analysis of the mainstream Taiwanese press was then conducted to explore the ways contending positions and issues were presented in the public domain and to identify the key voices given a public platform. This analysis demonstrated that the opinions and concerns of the general public were largely missing from a debate dominated by political and academic elites. Against the grain of their own claims to be representing the public key actors constructed public debate as a series of monologues, advancing their own sectional and paternalistic interpretations of the public interest. These findings point to the supremely ironic conclusion that a process ostensibly dedicated to reconstructing broadcasting as key element in a new, democratic, public sphere, excluded the public from active participation and relegated them to the role of spectators.