Sunday, June 24, 2018

Whither the Media: Sex and the Media (Note clickbait title!)

My man Dom brakes for a view.
"Manuel, on some subjects I don't trust even myself. Limiting the freedom of news 'just a little bit' is in the same category with the classic example 'a little bit pregnant.' We are not yet free nor will we be as long as anyone--even our ally Mike--controls our news. Someday I hope to own a newspaper independent of any source or channel. I would happily set print by hand, like Benjamin Franklin."
Many articles have discussed the problems of journalism in an internet world where digital replication at almost no cost is destroying the scarcity that makes news worth purchasing. In Taiwan this has led to rapid shifts in the English media environment.

Some of them are very obvious. A couple of years ago China Post shed its staff and went completely digital. I still mourn its death today. Pro-China it may have been, but some of its local reporting was really good and it had a nice set of features and columns, and of course many of the people who worked there were pro-Taiwan.

This same process is now going on at the Taipei Times, I hear. It is funded by the pro-Green Liberty Times group, and is a money loser. I expect at some point that it will move online entirely or even disappear, and all we will be left with for robust English media in Taiwan is Taiwan News and the government news organizations.

Taiwan News underwent several changes. It began as print media, then went totally online. For a while it was a hideous totally online website that sourced all its content from the CNA and was coated with ads. Then it changed to its current more dignified and useful online format and began to operate like a real newspaper.

Taiwan News is owned by a pro-Green business group, and criticism of the DPP there is muted. But it does do some original reporting. Because it is online, it needs to generate clicks, and thus, it puts out lots of clickbait. For example...
Of those, three contain pictures of nude women, blurred over for those who have never seen a nude woman before. The headline about the Taiwanese blogger also notes that the nude wife is in fact his cousin, thus creating a double whammy of nudity-incest titillation. As the local English news media moves online, the amount of tiresome clickbait and worse, clickbait headlines, will rise, but it is a necessary evil from their point of view, because clicks help support their existence.

The article about the British pick up artist is more interesting. I will not provide any links since I do not want to increase their clicks, but these people had long ago declared that Taiwan media are easily scammed, and they ran this latest move of theirs as a scam aimed at the Taiwan media's "they're rogering our wimmenz!" reporting style. Not content with getting into Taiwan News, they also spammed the Taiwan-related Reddits and newsgroups on Facebook with fake news, including obvious garbage claiming that gangsters had killed one of them, and similar. Apparently one of them has scores of fake identities which he uses to troll. Sad.

One of the Facebook groups was Taiwan Daily News in English, which I moderate. Cleaning out the garbage they left on our group, including some sprawling, stupid arguments, sucked.

People like these are essentially parasites, trolling for clickbait, spreading fake news, exploiting the goodwill and hard work of others in building useful web communities, wasting the time and resources of those of us dedicated to fostering such communities, and then declaring themselves superior while leaving better people to clean up the turds they leave behind. Their behaviors are deeply sociopathic. But they are symptomatic of the new media world in which there is so much stuff going on, some of it is fake, and news organizations increasingly lack the resources or skills to determine what is real and what is not. That is going to be an urgent problem for Taiwan's impoverished online media, which cannot even afford routine reporting.

Another problem that the need to generate clickbait is going to exacerbate is the already rampant sexism in Taiwan's media. The pieces featuring nude women in Taiwan News above are only one example. My Twitter feed is filled with gorgeous, partially dressed females tweeted around by Apple Daily, for example, none of them at all news. Even minor fluff pieces like this are fronted with unnecessary images of partially dressed females that are unrelated to the topic at hand.

To get a sense of what is happening, compare the Taiwan News headline about a recent brothel raid in Keelung with the CNA report at Focus Taiwan.
CNA: Keelung police crack prostitution ring, 31 arrested

TN: 17 Thai prostitutes nabbed in northern Taiwan's Keelung
The CNA article notes that the Thai-ness of the prostitutes was what got the police alerted to the brothel operation, and that they will be deported, but definitely places their origin in the background. Taiwan News moves the Otherness of the prostitutes to the headline and then keeps mentioning their origin in subsequent paragraphs, keeping their Otherness at the center of the reader's attention and muting the involvement of locals. The CNA report is shorter, but it focuses more strongly on the real criminals, the operators of the brothel (you can see why people operate brothels -- the most you can get is two years and the fine for the girls amounts to a weeks' work). The opportunity to troll the audience with Otherness + sex was too good to pass up.

Finally, Taiwan News and the Taipei Times augur an even more serious problem: they are both owned by big companies, which limits the kind of reporting they can do. Since large companies are apt to treat such investments as cost centers, this means that our media institutions, like so many other institutions and vocations in our modern corporate capitalist universe, have become... precarious.

Corporate capitalist ownership of media also leads to another problem: China. David Spencer contended in a recent Taiwan News commentary:
Let's take the Taiwanese media as an example. Almost every Taiwanese TV news and print media outlet now has some form of Chinese investment. Many of these financial interests are controlling ones. And the effects this has had on media output in Taiwan has been profound.
The "almost every" is patently untrue (Spencer provides no evidence to support this claim), but the core issue of the claim is disturbingly correct -- it is entirely possible for China to purchase influence, especially since the local media is precarious, always a CEO's decision away from being slashed back to nothing. Moreover, many media firms belong to large conglomerates that have investments in China, one reason China encourages Taiwanese investment. A 2014 piece at Thinking Taiwan laid  out the consequences:
The evidence Hsu uses to support his research has a broad range. Circulation figures are used to examine market shares of various media, which allows for the further analysis of an outlet’s development trends and changing political orientation. Hsu studies not only the cases involving overtly pro-Beijing and pro-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) media such as the Want Want China Times Group, but also others, including Formosa TV (FTV) and SET, which originally sided with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and were Taiwan-centric but later surrendered their political posture to Beijing’s wishes, ostensibly in order to protect their business relations with China. Hsu’s research demonstrates that some traditionally pro-DPP media are engaging in self-censorship under pressure from Beijing, warning signs of deteriorating freedom of the press and speech in Taiwan.


Throughout his study, Hsu uses interesting anecdotes as evidence, and a good share of the information is made public for the first time. As mentioned above, an important contribution of this paper is that it does not exclude analysis of media that have upheld a pro-Taiwan or pro-DPP stance. Although analysts will not be overly surprised when reading Hsu’s description of how the China Times changed its position from being a pro-KMT to a pro-China newspaper under Beijing’s influence, they may be astonished to discover that traditionally pro-DPP media have also been modifying their views according to Beijing’s will. In fact, Hsu’s paper provides a lot of details about how the latter media have willingly censored themselves in exchange for profits in the Chinese market. For example, SET’s popular talk show program Big Talk News (Xinwen) was not permitted to discuss such “sensitive topics” as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibetan and Xinjiang issues, as well as Falun Gong. Moreover, SET finally axed the program in 2012 because of “pressure from Beijing” and “SET attempts to break into the Chinese TV market.
Will our English media be able to resist this unrelenting, ever-growing pressure?
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Kaminoge said...

"Finally, Taiwan News and the Taipei Times augur an even more serious problem: they are both owned by big companies, which limits the kind of reporting they can do."

In the case of Taiwan News, that company is I-Mei Foods, and the result is articles like this classic:

Anonymous said...

As I read this the porkchop restaurant
I'm at has 寰宇新聞台 on TV, it looks like a professional setup, high-quality with lots of international news. Not sure how much reporting staff they have though.