09 / 1994
In 1947, the ruling party in Taiwan, KMT, imposed martial law on the island. Newspaper, radio and television were firmly controlled thereafter by the government. Even though martial law was finally lifted in 1987, the three existing television stations are still run by various arms of the state apparatus. TTV is owned by the Taiwan Provincial Government. CTV is run by KMT; and CTS takes its orders from the military. Through its direct or indirect control over the two major newspapers and three television stations, the ruling party has been able to effectively manipulate public opinion and greatly restrict freedom of speech.
In the eighties, demand for democracy swept over Taiwan; and martial law was increasingly challenged by voices from the opposition movement. Farmers, workers, environmentalists and human rights activists took their causes to the streets to demand legalised protection of their rights. To suppress the waves of social protests that were pushing Taiwan toward democratization, the KMT relied on the use of force by the military and the police. Mainstream media portrayed the protests as street violence and public opinion continued to be manipulated by the government. In the meantime, political magazines that were sharply critical of the government became popular.
In 1986, the Green Team, an underground video group began to record faithfully social protest events and produced and distributed video tapes. Their work caused people to understand the opposition movement in a different light. Between 1987 and 1988, home videos produced by the Green Team and The 3rd Vision bore witness to major protest events in a social movement that marked the turning point of Taiwan’s development toward democratization.
In 1990, the Green Team established an underground television station to counter the pro-government election campaign invariably staged by the three TV stations. Others attempted to interrupt official television broadcast. Mobile underground television stations also joined in the movement against KMT control over mass media.
By 1991, there were 300 cable TV stations in Taiwan, all of them illegal because cable was banned. In 1991, the opposition party, DPP, began to broadcast political speeches, reports of social unrest and political discussion programs on cable TV channels. Such channels were called "Democracy CTV". They began to produce news reports on local events to counter centralized control over news by the 3 televisions stations. This marked the beginning of community TV news in Taiwan. However, such efforts were still short of the spirit of a true community TV because they lacked community participation in program production. In 1993, the government was finally forced to legalize cable TV.
Also, in 1994, underground radio stations sprang up and became the focus of attention. These stations opened hot lines for call-ins, enabling taxi drivers, home makers and other listeners to become street commentators on political events and social issues. The immediacy of call-in dialogues inspired popular participation and brought forth opinions that had been systematically silenced by radio stations that receive official blessing. More importantly, underground radio became a means of mass mobilization and a point of conflict that sharpened people’s awareness of the inseparable ties between free speech and democracy. On August 1, 1994, the KMT government used helicopters and a police force of six thousand to crack down simultaneously on all 14 underground radio stations in Taiwan. The early morning attack provoked mass protests and a riot in the capital city of Taipei. Some stations resumed broadcast almost instantly and received large sums of money from supportive listeners. The crackdown only confirmed the martial law mentality of the KMT and its fear of free speech.
Since 1986, people who pursue freedom of speech have waged a continous war against government control over the media. Their protests have been carried out in the margins of society, in the form of distribution of underground video tapes, TV broadcast interference, opposition cable TV or underground radio broadcast. The war has been waged against centralized control by KMT over the mass media, against official suppression of the people’s will to free expression. Such is the scene in which the electronic media in Taiwan moves slowly but surely towards democratization.
Winter Chiang works for The Taiwan Report.
Translated into French and Spanish.
Artigos e dossiês
Videazimut, Local Community and Public Access TV in. Clips, 1994 (Canada), 6
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