State-press relations in Taiwan : the shifting boundaries of control
In order for democracy to perform as it should, the press must provide citizens with a diverse range of information. The democratic process is enhanced, if the press is independent of both the state and the market. A study of the issues in state-press relations and how these relations may prevent the press from performing its democratic function, lies at the centre of this work. In an authoritarian society in transition such as Taiwan, where the press is subjected to state control, these issues are of central importance. This study aims to examine the democratic relationship between the press and politics in Taiwan and its relevance to the democratic process. It focuses on three areas: (1) what is the nature of state control over the press, (2) how have the boundaries of control shifted as the state is faced with a more vigorous civil society influenced by the development of the democratic movement as well as the growing role of market forces, and (3) to what extent the press has played a role in the development of Taiwanese democracy. A multi-method research design is set out in an attempt to understand the changing political and economic role of the press. Intensive library research and a detailed content analysis of administrative records were conducted in order to examine the mechanisms of press control exercised by the party-state over both the mainstream and alternative media. Moreover, an ethnographic approach is used to enable a study of state-press relations which focuses on the reporting of politics. We conclude that the confrontation between the partystate and civil society has altered the close links between the Nationalist Party, the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) and the press. The transformation of state-press relations marks a change from direct control by the party-state to a form of market censorship, with the party-state manipulation of the press shifting from regulation and censorship to news management. In the years before the rule of martial law, the party-state exercised power over the press by means of its licensing of newspapers, giving financial support to the press industry, and seducing proprietors through the provision of political and economic favours. By the late 1980s, the strategies of public relations had become important for a party-state which was undermined by an increasingly aware populace and was faced with a less manageable press. Finally, we suggest that unless newspaper barons are willing to distance themselves from the party-state and divert power to journalists; and the journalists are willing to rely on professional judgement and to energetically pursue facts, the press will exercise little impact on making the party-state more accountable to the public during Taiwan's transition to a democratic society.