Taiwan's changing media landscape
Professor Wang began by citing a recent article which claimed that fake news can spread up to six times faster on social media platforms than verified news from traditional media sources owing to its novelty and provocative nature. She added that there are no easy answers to addressing the problem of fake news. Suggestions include fact checking by humans and flagging disputed news or using sophisticated algorithms to counter fake news, although it is not certain how feasible any of these options are.
Another panellist pointed out that checking facts, while desirable is difficult in an era where media resources are dwindling and fewer and fewer journalists are under pressure to produce a lot of content. What often happens is that a lot of articles are simply copied from other sources and, even in the original articles, the underlying sources are not always printed. Most people read the news but very few people read corrections. For this reason, the best way to ensure that news is credible is to get news from credible sources. Providing credible content is the responsibility of the media but getting news from credible sources is the responsibility of consumers.
Another panellist countered that it is difficult to get people to change. For many people today, social media platforms have become their favoured sources of news and the business model of these platforms is to figure out what consumers want to read and only provide what they want. He pointed out that algorithms can and are manipulated to feed egos and stimulate emotions, both positive and negative. The unfortunate consequence is a narrowing of consumers' news sources to those that echo their own world view.
Jason Hsu made the point that it is not possible to control information but there is a growing call globally for more regulation of big tech companies given their growing influence. This is why all eyes are on the recent decision by the US Federal Trade Commission to question Facebook about the alleged leak and use of users' data to Cambridge Analytica, the UK political consultancy, which worked for the election campaign of then presidential candidate Donald Trump. Media watchers are observing to see if the case will result in any regulatory changes.
Hsu also stressed the importance of education, noting that too many young people lack the critical media literacy and analytical skills to be able to separate fact from fiction, or at least question contentious claims. It is important therefore to introduce education programmes to teach children how to check for bias and outright fabrication in order to address this shortcoming.
Panellists agreed that the media environment in Taiwan is deteriorating, mostly owing to the evaporation of traditional advertising revenue streams that have decimated traditional print media and led to consolidation among an ever shrinking number of traditional media and giant technology groups, which have captured the lion's share of advertising revenue streams. In this environment, the two main issues facing media groups are credibility and sustainability. Good quality journalism costs money. While there are sometimes benevolent benefactors willing to spend money to pay for integrity and quality, they often only have short-term commitments. Meanwhile, those only interested in making money are less concerned about quality or integrity and too often sacrifice either or both for the sake of the bottom line.
One of the panellists pointed out that Taiwan already has too many media outlets relative to the size of the market. He said that no one is really making money and many new entrants run out of money in the start-up phase before they have a chance to become sustainable. He therefore expects some degree of consolidation to happen in the local industry eventually.