Sunday, November 13, 2005

ESWN on writing on Taiwan

ESWN has presented a long defense of his writings on Taiwan, as well as the rest of Asia. I have long been one of the main complainers about ESWN's presentation, so it was interesting to see why ESWN's presentation of Taiwan affairs is so relentlessly negative. He writes:

Now we come to the most misunderstood part of EastSouthWestNorth. There is no doubt that this explanation will generate even more complaints, and I have no expectation that this will mollify the critics.

This opening is quite clever, starting out with the warning that it won't mollify critics, with the unstated subtext that the critics are irrational.

Again, I will begin by starting to examine the situation of an English-only reader interested in Taiwan. What will you do to find news about Taiwan every day? There is little news in the western mainstream media, unless something extraordinary happens (such as yet another brawl in the Taiwan Legislature). If you get on Google and check on Taiwan, the major source of information is likely to be the English-language Taipei Times. If you go to Asia Media, Taipei Times is their main source from Taiwan too. Do you think that you get a fair, accurate and balanced presentation of what is going on in Taiwan? You must be out of your mind.

ESWN is wrong on all counts -- as usual. First, there is plenty of pro-Blue media in English, starting with the China Post. ESWN would like to claim that the Taipei Times is somehow too horribly biased, but the sad fact is that the pan-Blue news -- as we have seen from EWSN's own selections -- is irrational, poorly written, uninformed by history, and deliberately misleading. The Taipei Times is none of these things, which is why so many news aggregators prefer it. Of course it is pro-Green, but its stance is nowhere near as irrational as the China Post, nor is it a blatantly anti-Taiwan foreign-owned tabloid like Apple Daily. Finally, there is plenty of news about Taiwan in the western media. Our legislature does embarrass us from time to time, but there is all sorts of other stuff, from electronics to movies, that crops up.

If you can read Chinese, you will find out that the media leaders in Taiwan are Liberty Times, Apple Daily, China Times, United Daily News and a whole bunch of cable television channels such as TVBS and ETToday. Liberty Times is the sister publication of Taipei Times, and therefore its viewpoints are adequately represented to the English-only world via Taipei Times. The rest of the media are simply missing in action in English. So what EastSouthWestNorth is trying do here is to translate what appears in those other Chinese-language media. Most of the translated stories come straight from Apple Daily and China Times. Typically, they can be classified as follows:

As we have seen, this is nonsense. The rest of the media are present and accounted for in English, starting with the China Post, which is the largest circulation English daily, I think. Other news services include the China Economic News Service (CENS) 中國經濟通訊社, founded in 1974 by the United Daily News 聯合報, and The Overseas Chinese News Agency 華僑通訊社, an affiliate of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission 僑務委員會.

* Social stories (especially from Apple Daily) complete with photographs and graphic illustrations. You will never ever get that from Taipei Times. Somewhere, we have to note that Apple Daily dominates the youth segment of the market and this is where the future is going. The political message is that the young people are not interested in politics-as-usual, so the same old tired political tripe is not working for them.

ESWN is quite right. You will never find graphic photographs of bloody wounds and similar on the Taipei Times because those are not serious news. ESWN's "complete with photographs and illustrations" hides the fact that Apple Daily is basically tasteless and shallow. It's too soon to say that all the readers of the Apple Daily will wind up reading that crap the rest of their lives, as people often move up to real news when they grow up, and many who purchase Apple Daily also purchase real newspapers with it. ESWN, eager to claim that Taiwan has failed -- and there is more than a hint of jealousy in his gleeful remark that......

The political message is that the young people are not interested in politics-as-usual, so the same old tired political tripe is not working for them.

....simply does not understand Taiwan. The political message here is far more complex than that. Of course, if you get your news from Apple Daily, it is quite likely to be the result that you miss what is going on in Taiwan (unless your interest is limited purely to bloody deaths and sexual affairs). That is why the international news sources don't pay people to translate tripe from the anti-Taiwan media and present it as the future viewpoint of the public. Instead, they rely on the Taipei Times, the China Post, and a host of other English-language media services.

* Political stories that reflect the sharp divisions in Taiwan. According to the relentlessly pan-green Taipei Times, everything is the fault of the other side. What is the story from the other side? You won't get that whole other story in the English-only media. This is where EastSouthWestNorth can get you some direct translations from Apple Daily and China Times about some (but definitely not all) major developments, and this will give this some sense of the contentiousness.

Actually, I am thankful that ESWN takes the time to translate the tripe in the local Chinese papers, as it gives a good sense of how truly malicious, irrational and uninformed the other side is. ESWN's characterization of the Taipei Times as "relentlessly pan-Green..everything is the fault of the other side" is overwrought. The Taipei Times has been very critical of the Greens. And the idea that the Taipei Times doesn't reflect "the sharp divisions in Taiwan" and that the other side of those divisions can be represented by a foreign-owned tabloid is laughable. Anyone who reads the Taipei Times knows full well that Taiwan is bitterly divided, and why. ESWN then goes on to play the martyr:

It is unfortunate that some people would take these straight translations as representations of the EastSouthWestNorth blogger's own opinions.

It is not the straight translations, ESWN, but your selectivity that sends us a signal. For example, I cannot recall you ever translating a piece from the China Times or Apple Daily that explains why the pan-Blues are blocking nearly every piece of legislation that nation needs, and are attempting to bring government here to a standstill. Anyone who read your blog would never know that particular reality. Although you frequently shred other polls, you present the polls of Apple Daily without any serious comment on how biased they are. You claim that you are presenting "the other side" but in fact you cite a Hong Kong-owned tabloid as "the other side" of Taiwan although Taiwan boasts two papers owned and operate by the Kuomintang, the Central Daily News 中央日報, China Daily News 中華日報 and several serious and local pan-Blue papers which would suit your claim far better.

Finally, and most seriously and clearly, the commentary you add indicates where your biases lie -- last I saw, you were claiming that the Chen Shui-bian government was going to implement a new White Terror, or spouting 'gwash like

"Of course, Chen Shui-bian is entitled to his personal opinion. Nevertheless, it is annoying when these comments are coming from a person who perhaps needs to look much deeper inside his own soul about himself and his state."

In that same article you also wrote:

For a dose of reality to counter the English-language kool-aid that has been freely distributed about Taiwan, here is a translation of an article by media commentator Nan Fang-shuo (南方朔) published in The Journalist. The problems that are enumerated in this article are well known, and the biggest problem is that Chen Shui-bian is institutionally incapable of talking about them.

"English-language Koolade?" "Chen Shui-bian institutionally incapable of discussing Taiwan's problems?" (see here for the hilariously awful article ESWN found insightful). The bias is clear as day, ESWN, and it does not look anything like what you do above on China and elsewhere.

Instead, I ask you to consider:
(1) those opinions were expressed in Apple Daily, China Times and United Daily, which have the majority of newspaper circulation in Taiwan (note: Liberty Times is the market leader, but the other three have larger combined circulation);
(2) those newspapers obtain their circulations because their readers generally accept their editorial positions and opinions;
(3) do those opinions receive the same weight if you google in English on the same story?
(4) if not, then who is going to redress that imbalance?

ESWN, there is no "imbalance" between serious thinking and tripe. There's a reason why educated English-speakers who know a lot about Taiwan overwhelmingly get their news from the Taipei Times, and it is quite simple. Because it is a more accurate source of news. Because its biases do not get in the way of its reporting, unlike the China Post. Because it is not a propaganda outlet nor a Taiwan-hating tabloid like the Apple Daily. It publishes news, not bloody photos of half-naked victims.

And your claim above misses the reality that for years anti-KMT newspapers were shut down. If the pro-Blue newspapers have a combined high circulation, that's due in part to the inertia left over from the bad old days, and similar factors. For example, the English language newspaper, and Chinese newspapers, in all the university AFL departments I have worked in have been pan-Blue. This is true of many institutions, where mainlanders continue to maintain their grip on power. Your point (2) does not begin to address the issues. But then what do you expect from someone who thinks Apple Daily is a serious news organization that can represent the other side's opinion?

The EastSouthWestNorth blogger does not necessarily want to do it, but does anyone else want to do it? If so, this blogger will happily relinquish his unrewarding role. The blogger will also lay this particular hypothetical scenario on the table: if Taipei Times were actually the sister newspaper of China Times and reflect the pan-blue viewpoint, the EastSouthWestNorth blogger would be translating from Liberty Times instead.

I personally doubt that would be the case. Your blog is among my favorites, a fantastic source of news and commentary, and will remain there. I always recommend it to other people. But when it comes to Taiwan, your bias is as obvious as "English-language media kool-aid."

10 comments:

Sun Bin said...

Michael,

How could you expect people to take your argument seriously is you take such a biased partisan view?

- you said, "China Post, which is the largest circulation English daily, I think." again, you used "you think" as fact. do you really beliebe china post has larger readership than taipei time? do you have the number to prove this?
- China Post and others are as biased as Taipei Time. But China Post does not have 'meat", i.e. informative news coverage. It is like Central Daily (中央日报) or People's Daily, both party organs. No one reads it. I finished it in 10 seconds. Taipei is also party organ, but it invest more into real news so it had bigger readership
- Taipei Time is not biased? LOL
- pan-blue=anti-taiwan, CCP=China, you have defined Taiwan as a 10M population subgroup, and China as 65M party cadres. you call this 'rational'?
- apple daily is a tabloid. but it blast both blue and green. it is the only 'neutral' media i could find in taiwan, unfortunately.

---

just curious? do i belong to the anti-taiwan group?

Michael Turton said...

Taipei Time is not biased? LOL

Sun, point out where I said Taipei Times is not biased. That is not the issue. We both made essentially the same point:

Taipei is also party organ, but it invest more into real news so it had bigger readership

Yes, I know the China Post sucks, but ESWN's claim is that the other side isn't represented in the English media. That's why I pointed to it. The Blues have plenty of representation. It's just that their representation sucks.

And the fact that it sucks simply supports everything else I've always said about the pan-Blues -- they have no integrity and no positive ideas for Taiwan. Hence the China Post is filled with fluff. What else could it be filled with?

- pan-blue=anti-taiwan, CCP=China, you have defined Taiwan as a 10M population subgroup, and China as 65M party cadres. you call this 'rational'?

Sun, read before posting. It is basic to understanding. At no time have I ever said that the CCP represents China. I do maintain that at the moment, the pan-Blues are anti-Taiwan, as there is ample evidence to support that. I don't comment on China because that is not the purpose of this blog. There are lots of good China blogs, like yours, for example, that do that much better than I ever could.

apple daily is a tabloid. but it blast both blue and green. it is the only 'neutral' media i could find in taiwan, unfortunately.

Apple Daily is a cancer. Its nuetrality is the neutrality of failure and cynicism in which all positions are morally equivalent and there is nothing good in the world.

Michael

Sun Bin said...

pan-blue has some 48-49% votes in the previous election?
let's discount it to 30-40% to be conservative.

how can it be anti-itself?

this is like saying your left hand is anti-you. i have logical problem with this statement.

wayne said...

Have you actually read the Apple Daily's political coverage or their editorial page? Yeah, it's usually buried behind a couple of pages of gory "human interest" stories, but what's there is surprisingly decent. Or at the very least, rather than having a pro-green or blue bias, they have a pro-scandal bias.

Their editorial page, which often has editorials translated from American professors, especially blows the pants off of the Liberty Times or the United Daily News's editorial page.

Also, the Apple Daily has an entire section devoted to international news as opposed to the one page of scraps you get in the other newspapers, though again most of those stories go for the "human interest" angle.

I don't know why you bother with either the Taipei Times or the China Post. If you were a Taiwanese person living in the States, wouldn't it be silly if you relied on the Chinatown papers to find out what's wrong with the GOP?

Michael Turton said...

Hmmm...it looks like I will have to pay closer attention to Apple Daily, then, Wayne. I'll make a point of reading it this week.

I thought I identified the problem with scandalmongering in the last comment...

...and further, Taipei Times, AFAIK, is a local paper that is locally owned and supportive of freedom and democracy in Taiwan. The issue isn't language, at least to me, but quality of reporting.

this is like saying your left hand is anti-you. i have logical problem with this statement.

*Shrug* Well, I think your premise that one represents "the left hand" is flawed. Lots of poor people voted for Bush in the 2000 election. Do you think they voted for someone who supports them? Or were they hoodwinked into voting for a party that does not serve their interests?

Michael

mark said...

Great analysis. Thanks for this and for your many detailed reviews of Taiwanese politics and opinion. I have passed on your weblog to some of my colleagues here in the Taiwan scene in London. It's really useful.

Looks like a bunch of us will be coming to Taipei next year in mid April for a multi-day seminar on our chapters in a forthcoming book on Taiwanese cultural politics. I pass on details when they become available.

Sun Bin said...

As much as I dislike Bush's foreign policy, stupidity in the iraq war, and in unitelligent design, I have to respect the choice of 51% votes.

Certainly they are not anti-america. Nor is W Bush.

--
the same applies to pan-blue or pan-green. they are both guilty of being irrational in many cases. they may even do stupid thing that is not beneficial to their people. but they are not anti-taiwan. they (esp the voters who do not have political interests) may be pushing someting stupid but their are well intended. (except a few corrupted official)
they just believe in something that you or me do not agree.

wayne said...

Don't get me wrong. The Apple Daily's strength are their boobie pictures.

But what's with your "The Apple Daily panders to youthful political indifference and thus it's anti-Taiwan" stance? It's sort of a weird mix of Hoklo nativism and my high school civics teacher. Is there something else to the Apple's anti-Taiwan stance besides their pandering to political indifference and their Hong Kong ownership?

Anyhow, the somewhat green slant in the TT's general reporting isn't their problem. It's their lack of in-depth reporting and thoughtful analysis that annoys me. Anyone could send a reporter to cover a press conference. It takes a real newspaper to actually interview regular people or to write thoughtful, in-depth analysis pieces like you see in the WSJ or NY Times.

Sun Bin said...

wayne,

given the size of market TT serves, you are askng too much.

even SCMP in HK (with a much larger circulation) is mediocre at best.

nostalgiphile said...

No one mentions my personal favorite Taiwanese newspaper--"台灣日報", which happens to blow the doors off of all of your newspapers combined--ergo, you are all completely biased blue/green party mouthpieces. ;-)