As Taiwan’s media flounders, so does its democracy

The Baltimore Sun
Date: April 11, 2019
By: Tricia Bishop

This handout photo taken on March 30, 2019, courtesy of doctor Horng Chi-ting shows “sweat bees” in a patient’s eye in the southern Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung. Four tiny “sweat bees” that had been living in a Taiwanese woman’s eye. (HANDOUT / AFP/Getty Images)

For those of you horrified by the “sweat bees” story in your social media feeds this week — the one about the woman who supposedly had four of the tiny bees living in her left eye, feeding on her tears — I offer this caveat: It came from Taiwan. Take it with a grain of salt.

I don’t mean to knock the media there — it’s a lovely place, filled with lovely people — but they give me no choice. During a five-day journalism fellowship on the self-ruled island last month, we were told again and again just how bad they are. The TV journalists are largely ratings driven and likely to run with any old sensational claim, or they’re the dummies to China’s ventriloquist, officials said. And the print journalists are overworked and underpaid, forced to crank out a half dozen pieces a day with no time for deep dives, fact-checking or government watchdogging; they’re also understandably scared to call out their Communist neighbors to the north, across the Taiwan Strait, for meddling in their affairs.

I initially thought this was all a bit of bluster. Here in America, we’ve grown accustomed to politicians in particular crying “fake news!” whenever the reporting doesn’t favor them (and I’m not just talking about Donald Trump). But then our group of seven U.S. journalists met with a handful of Taiwanese journalists and media professors at the end of the week. It was eye opening. In the way four bees drinking your tears is eye opening. And by that, I mean painful.

The group essentially confirmed the complaints we’d heard earlier during a marathon of meetings with various important people (including Taiwan’s vice president), all arranged by Ming Chuan University, which co-sponsored the fellowship alongside the East-West Center, a non-profit based in Honolulu that’s funded by the U.S. government.0

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