On August 30, Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture introduced a new English-language news and media streaming platform, Taiwan Plus (Taiwan+). The government-backed platform was established specifically for international audiences, with the goal of projecting a positive image of Taiwan to the world and countering China-centric narratives on Taiwan. Taiwan Today described President Tsai Ing-wen’s vision for the platform:
In a special video message marking the launch, President Tsai Ing-wen said the platform is expected to promote Taiwan’s experiences and perspectives on regional and global affairs while highlighting the country’s contributions to the international community.
The platform will also serve as a showcase for the achievements and diversity of Taiwan as a vibrant democracy in which freedom of speech and expression are cherished and protected, Tsai said. This is anticipated as helping people around the world understand the country’s resilience and draw inspiration, she added.
Taiwan’s story deserves to be told by local voices in new ways, Tsai said, adding that such a platform is important at this moment as the government continues growing global engagement and promoting what the country stands for. [Source]
Delighted for the launch of Taiwan+ @TaiwanPlusMedia, a new independent, English-language multimedia platform to tell #Taiwan's story. I wish Taiwan+ all the best as you work to share Taiwan's voices & values with the world. https://t.co/VHTDonlUWN pic.twitter.com/3fbAF6ltSo
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) August 30, 2021
Today, we present to you Taiwan+, a free English-language streaming service that aims to deliver information, news, and videos showcasing what’s happening in Taiwan and around the world. pic.twitter.com/vzUAjSQjjV
— TaiwanPlus (@taiwanplusmedia) August 30, 2021
The Taiwanese government gave the platform a hefty endorsement. In addition to the $28 million provided to support its operations, several high-ranking officials spoke on stage at the launch ceremony outside the National Taiwan Museum, including Taiwanese Vice-President Lai Ching-te and Taiwanese Minister of Culture Lee Yung-te, as well as other political figures and an award-winning musical guest. Patrick Frater at Variety reported on the personnel and content that constitute Taiwan Plus:
It currently has 55 staff, though this may grow to 150 within a year. They are a mixture from the U.S., U.K, Canada, France, and Australia, as well as local industry professionals.
Content will be curated from Taiwanese public and private media organizations, as well as produced with an in-house team of regional and international journalists. It may also be open to co-production with international producers. [Source]
Based on the site’s initial content and the broader press coverage of its launch, Taiwan Plus has framed itself in contrast to Chinese state media and its coverage of Taiwan. Taiwanese lawmaker You Si-kun put it bluntly, stating that in the midst of China’s intimidation and political isolation of Taiwan, Taiwan Plus allows Taiwan to tell its stories to the world through its own voices. On its website, the Taiwan Plus mission statement described Taiwan’s precarious situation and the need for new voices: “At a time when Taiwan’s international presence is being suppressed, and many voices in the region are being silenced, Taiwan+ tells these stories in a way that informs, inspires and empowers.” One speaker at the launch ceremony even compared this mission to an existential contest between hunter and hunted, as detailed by Taiwan’s Central News Agency, which is tasked with managing Taiwan Plus:
Meanwhile, in her remarks, St. Christopher and Nevis Ambassador Jasmine Elise Huggins, the dean of the foreign diplomatic corps in Taiwan, said she believed TaiwanPlus will offer greater insight into Taiwan.
It will reveal the history and share the stories of the “small great country that is Taiwan, in a manner that would change the consciousness of the world and shape their knowledge of who and what Taiwan really is,” she said.
“If the lion does not tell his story, the hunter will,” she said, quoting an African proverb.
“I wish Taiwan+ great success as it tells the story of Taiwan and its wonderful people not as that of the hunter but as that of the lion,” she said. [Source]
Taiwan has good reason to be concerned about “the hunter.” Building up to a potential physical war to reconquer what it views as a “renegade province,” China has waged an incessant information war against Taiwan’s domestic population and foreign allies, aiming to sow disinformation and peel off Taiwan’s international patrons. Much of China’s recent influence operations targeting Taiwan have revolved around the 2020 Taiwanese presidential elections, wherein Beijing bought out Taiwanese media outlets to bend content towards pro-Beijing narratives, deployed bots to spread disinformation on social media, and launched millions of cyberattacks.
China’s battles over information are not limited to Taiwan; they are part of a larger effort to increase its “discourse power” (话语权) in the international arena by “telling China’s story well.” By leveraging its influence across different forms of media, Beijing attempts to mold the information consumed by global audiences, thereby gaining support for its policies and advancing its strategic interests. Major campaigns in China’s push for discourse power include reclaiming the narrative over mass incarceration and forced labor in Xinjiang, the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s pandemic response, and reunification with Taiwan.
While Taiwan maneuvers to counter China’s international discourse power projection, some have wondered whether the government-backed Taiwan Plus will merely imitate mainland state media outlets in producing positive stories without much independent criticism. Rhoda Kwan at Hong Kong Free Press catalogued the somewhat skeptical attitudes of fellow journalists:
“My concern is mostly about whether the government can really respect its promise of allowing @taiwanplusmedia to be independent, objective and truly critical rather than purely treating it as a ‘soft power image creator’ for Taiwan,” tweeted William Yang, president of Taiwan’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club and correspondent for Germany’s Deutsche Welle.
“The public should also bear in mind that the real function of an objective and independent media outlet is not simply pumping out ‘feel-good, positive’ stories about a place. It needs to be well-rounded, multi-faceted and unbiased.”
[…] His concerns were shared by some other local journalists. “[S]eeing all of this political support at launch makes me question the ‘independent’ aspect of this whole endeavour. I fear this platform will be little more than a marketing ploy to help Taiwan gain more positive attention,” said Daniel Kao, a graphics journalist for Commonwealth Magazine.
[…] “Although President Tsai Ing-wen has said she wants to continue developing press freedom in Taiwan, few concrete measures have been taken to improve journalists’ editorial independence and encourage media to raise the quality of the public debate,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF), whose Asian operations are based in Taipei, wrote in its 2021 annual press freedom rankings. [Source]
Other online reactions to the launch also questioned the new platform’s independence and objectivity:
#TaiwanPlus is the same type of propaganda of #China's state run media, but made by a nice and friendly democratic country. Strange how the way of receiving news changes depending on the source it comes from https://t.co/5npq2OlGoQ
— Maurizio (@M_Monzani) August 31, 2021
While this is interesting, TaiwanPlus will be in an awkward position long-term.
We all know Taiwan has various issues – low wage economy, abysmal migrant working standards, archaic nationality laws. Will these be challenged? https://t.co/oMntdVeux7
— Joseph LR | 羅瑞哲 (@jlewr) September 2, 2021
Not a criticism of anyone at TaiwanPlus or the work they will be doing, just that as gov-funded organisation, if we know societal problems like the above exist – who will challenge it? Otherwise this is just like one of the shinier outlets from the PRC, like Sixth Tone.
— Joseph LR | 羅瑞哲 (@jlewr) September 2, 2021
Sixth Tone have done (and continue to do) brilliant reporting within the constraints given to them. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the same from TaiwanPlus.
Censorship then put aside, will people commission tough reporting? Who will commission them, will it be sustainable?
— Joseph LR | 羅瑞哲 (@jlewr) September 2, 2021
Taiwan’s success in this soft-power initiative will likely depend, at least to some extent, on producing objective content. Taiwan’s Central News Agency has promised to let the platform run independently from its other news departments and to respect the autonomy of the platform’s staff. Members of the new platform have also signaled their commitment to objectivity and have invited the public to help hold it to account:
And finally: if you are concerned about the direction of Taiwan+ and want to help ensure that the country has a fair, impartial news platform, come work for us. Put those ideals, that creativity, that fire in your belly into action. 🔥
— Andrew Ryan 阮安祖 (@thefeast) September 2, 2021