Formal features: Prominence, origin, and sources of Taiwan-related articles

First, a brief comparative description of formal features, such as the prominence of the Taiwan-related articles (in terms of quantity and position), indicates salience or perceived importance of Taiwanese local matters and serves as a prelude for the discussion on the state of Taiwanisation/Sinicisation in the three dimensions of ethnicity, partisanship, and culture.

TABLE 7.1 Op-ed articles about Taiwanese affairs

China Post

Taipei Times

Taiwan News









Letters to editor








Prominence: Genre and quantity of Taiwan-related articles

What generally stands out. from a quantitative perspective, is that the Taipei Times (TT) devotes more commentaries to local Taiwanese affairs (see Table 7.1). Fourteen out of fifteen columns in the TT were devoted to Taiwan compared to one opinion article about China. The China Post (CP), on the other hand, only brought five columns in total, in which three dealt with Taiwan and two with China. No comments discussing Taiwan or China affairs made it to the pages of the Taiwan News (TN). As for editorials, i.e. the genre in which the paper is most likely to show an overt ideological position, the TT brought seven editorials, six of which discussed Taiwan affairs and one reported on Chinese media censorship. The CP also published seven editorials, four of which related to Taiwan and one to China. All five editorials in the TN treated Taiwanese current affairs. The TT is the only paper that also prints the genre ‘Letters to the Editor’, and four of the six letters argued in favour of Taiwan with another letter criticising China. Cartoons only appear in the TT and all seven brought derogatory illustrations about Ma Ying-jeou’s administration. As concerns the genre of news articles, the CP featured 164 articles (including 41 briefs), the TT 104 (including five briefs), and the TN 61 (including ten briefs). Clearly, fewer articles are printed in the TN. but format has to be taken into account. At the time of analysis, the daily was printed on a tabloid-size paper, but counted more pages, some of them filled with full-page ads. This is how the total count of TN articles is still smaller than in the other two corpora. The CP prints more articles than the TT, as it also includes more human interest stories and soft news articles. More significant, however, is the discrepancy between both papers in the number of op-ed articles about local affairs, as shown in Table 7.1. The TT features 20 Taiwan-related opinion articles, while the CP devotes only seven editorials/columns to local matters.

Prominence: Position of Taiwan-related articles

Both the TT and the TN position their Taiwan-related articles on the first pages of the newspaper, which points to the prominence they give to local affairs. By contrast, the CP relegates the local accounts to the end of the paper. Ideologically significant domestic news is often printed within the bottom half range of the page. This stands in shrill contrast to similar news stories that are deemed frontpage news in the other two papers. An example is the treatment of the apology by Premier Wu Den-yih for calling the pro-independence camp ‘idiots’. While this appears in a small article at the bottom of the last page in the CP, it is the top article on the front page of the TT on 10 December, which also devotes a frill editorial to this speech act with the headline ‘One third of the nation are idiots’ (One third 2009e: 8). China-related articles feature on the ‘International News’ pages of the TT and the TN, whereas the CP positions the China articles either on the Asia-Pacific News page or on the local news pages, if there is a link to Taiwan. The CP also includes a special ‘Focus on China’ page on Mondays and a weekly column on ‘Ancient Chinese Anecdotes’ featuring on the local news page. By contrast, the TN remains particularly silent about China. Unlike the CP, the TT and TN treat Chinese stories as international affairs and foreground local Taiwanese news topics. Clearly, this quantitative and semiotic difference in attention to China-ZTaiwan-related topics discloses a continuity with findings in previous studies about these newspapers’ ideological allegiances to partisan lines (Lams 2006, 2008).

Origin of articles and voices

As concerns authorship, most remarkably, all three comments on the Taiwanese elections printed in the China Post are written by Chinese sources either in China, Singapore, or Hong Kong. Fewer Taiwanese political observers get the floor, when compared with the Taipei Times. Increasingly, articles from the China Daily and other Chinese networks appear in the CP. Unlike the 1990s, in 2009 the CP and the TN appear to rely more heavily on own staff reporters for the news articles, a feature already apparent in the TT since its inception. The TT and TN also print more articles originating from the Taiwanese news agency, CNA, than before. Although the analysis did not include a detailed count of voices that were heard or silenced, privileged or sidelined, on the whole, it can be argued that the CP allocates ample news room to government voices defending policies, whereas opposition voices tend to feature more frequently in the other two papers. Implications for Taiwanisation/Sinicisation processes will be dealt with in the concluding discussion.

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