Television Coverage of the 1995 Legislative Election in Taiwan: Rise of Cable Television as a Force for Balance in Media Coverage

Article excerpt

Before the emergence of cable television, Taiwan was served by three state-controlled broadcast television stations. The triple alliance of the government, the military, and the ruling party (Kuomintang, KMT) has monopolized the television industry (Lee, 1993). Consequently, television coverage of election campaigns was overwhelmingly pro-KMT and its candidates, while coverage of opposition candidates was precisely the opposite (Lo, 1994).

In 1993, the government lifted a twenty-two year ban on the establishment of new television stations and enacted a law to legalize the booming cable industry (Peng, 1994). As a result, many privately owned television systems have entered the market to take advantage of a new era of openness. Taiwan's television industry has entered a new phase marked by unprecedented competition and broader freedom in news coverage (Yang, 1996).

Taiwan's press freedoms and level of democracy have been substantially improved since the lifting of martial law in 1987. Before rescinding martial law, Taiwan was a one-party state. The ruling KMT was Taiwan's only legal, active political party, and opposition parties were prohibited (although non-KMT members had contested seats in elections at various levels).

As a result of the revocation of martial law, many political parties were established. In 1994, there were a total of 75 registered parties in Taiwan (CNA, 1996). However, only the two largest opposition parties, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the New Party (NP), were able to challenge the KMT in both local and national elections.

The 1995 election was the first Legislative Election in Taiwan in which there was fierce competition among the three major parties, each of which had a fairly good chance of winning a considerable number of seats. The election was also the first to be covered by Taiwan's privately owned cable television channels. The purpose of this study is to compare how the privately owned cable television channels and the state-owned broadcast television stations reported the campaign, the parties, and the candidates during the 1995 Legislative Election in Taiwan. Two questions are pursued. Do the newly established cable television channels give fair treatment to all the parties and candidates? Is there any difference in election coverage between the state-owned broadcast television stations and the privately owned cable television channels? We begin with a brief discussion of the structure and function of television in Taiwan, followed by a review of literature on press coverage of election campaigns and a description of the methodology of this study.

The Structure and Function of Television in Taiwan

Before the emergence of cable television, Taiwan was served by three state-owned broadcast television stations. The Taiwan Television Company (TTV) was controlled by the Taiwan Provincial Government, which owned 49% of the shares of TTV stock. The China Television Company (CTV) was primarily owned by the KMT (68%). The Chinese Television System (CTS) was owned by the Ministry of Defense (72%) and the Ministry of Education (10%) (Lo, Cheng, & Lee, 1994).

The ruling KMT owns majority shares of the three television stations. Main policy guidelines are uniform across stations, although sometimes the stations engage in turf battles of various kinds. The Taiwan Provincial Government, Ministries of Defense and Education, TTV, CTV, and CTS are all controlled by the government/KMT monolith.

Therefore, the government has effectively controlled all three broadcast television stations and could easily exercise control over the television industry's major appointments, finances, and content (Lee, 1993). This works in practice by the fact that most high-ranking officials of the stations are simultaneously high-ranking KMT members. Above them, boards of directors all bear conspicuous political credentials--retired or current generals, ministers, party functionaries, or major business industrialists. …