May 23, 2008
Republic of China (Taiwan) – A whole new experience

by Jude Knight 23.MAY.08

It was an opportunity of a lifetime and I almost said no!

A few weeks ago I was asked by my CEO Clare Keizer if I was interested in attending a Workshop on Taiwan’s Media Development hosted by The International Cooperation Development Fund (Taiwan ICDF) in Taiwan. She told me that she thought it would be an excellent opportunity for me and that I would be the only one from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to attend the workshop. At first I wasn’t sure, and I told her that I would get back to her in a few days.{{more}} Some days later I got back to her and Second Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines Nicole Y.C. Su with a positive answer and started packing my bags for Asia.

I departed Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados on Sunday, April 20th, on American Airlines for New York, then Alaska. I then boarded China Airlines on a 14-hour flight to Taipei. I arrived at Evergreen International Airport in Taipei on Tuesday, April 22. That flying was an experience by itself, and American Airlines should take a leaf from China Airlines’ book – a box juice is hardly enough on a very long flight, especially when you have to check in three hours early.

In Taiwan, I was met by ICDF representatives and taken to the posh City Suites Gateway Hotel not far from the airport where I spent the night. By morning I was introduced to 25 other participants from 24 different countries across the globe. One other participant arrived a day later. We checked out of our hotel at 9:00 a.m. and headed to the ICDF Headquarters for the opening ceremony. There we were met by several top officials who engaged us in a question-answer session. After having lunch at one of the oldest hotels in Taiwan, The Grand Hotel, we checked into The Golden China Hotel were we had orientation. This was done by Cathy Chang, Cathy Y.J. Chen, Project Manager of the Taiwan ICDF, and she introduced us to Programme Coordinators Josefina Lai, Louisa “LuLu” Huang, Lucy Wu, Winni Lin and Tina Liao. They, along with others, were assigned to us during our stay in Taiwan. That was the start of some very interesting workshop sessions and familarisation tours.

By Monday, April 28, we had toured and had roundtable discussions at the Government Information Office (GIO), Radio Taiwan International (RTI), The Central News Agency (CNA), Taiwan News and The Public Service Television Foundation (PTS). We also attended sterling lecture sessions with Professor Dr. Simon Lin – An Introduction to Taiwan, and Professor Dr. Leonard L. Chu – An Overview of Taiwan’s Media Development. The GIO is armed with the power to enforce legislation pertaining to the media, but it is seen as a regulatory body and not a controlling body. And during discussions, we heard about press freedom in Taiwan and that media houses were free to support one political party or the other and that they received 50% of their funding from Government. This we found really interesting if not contradictory, along with the admission by several of the officials that the prosperity and sometimes life of some media houses depended heavily on which political party wins government. We had many arguments about those issues and fired several questions on press freedom and the problems that could arise with government financial support. One knows only too well that when Governments pump money into organisations, they soon call for their pound of flesh. But we were assured that Government does no such thing in Taiwan, and media houses can write and report freely.

Another interesting observation was that most newspaper companies have gone into radio, television and Internet. We were told that with the meteoric rise of the Internet, most, if not all newspapers in Taiwan, will disappear within 15 to 20 years. An important indicator of this is that most of Taiwan’s youths hardly ever buy a newspaper and they depend mainly on the Internet, Television and Radio for news. Almost every vehicle has a touch screen television which gives them every news item, from traffic reports to weather, and this same information is also available at the touch of a button on every cell phone. So with the young people constantly on the go, there is not much time for newspapers. One publisher said that newspapers in Taiwan operate at a loss and they depend on other investments in order to survive. This development is clearly linked to the move by the country’s youths towards the more fast-paced media.

In Taiwan, the youths seem to be keeping up and moving just as fast as the changing world of technology. They are always on the move during weekdays. While heading to work, some can be seen checking the Internet on their PDA phones, and it seems they only slow down a bit at weekends. But during the week, you would hardly see any liming in the city, in front of stores, as is often seen in the Caribbean region. They seem so industrious; no wonder you hardly ever hear about murders or any other crimes for that matter. They don’t seem to have much time for gossip or time wasting. We commented that during the whole Taiwan experience we hadn’t seen one street vagrant or beggar anywhere, and we were able to walk the streets very late without being harassed or robbed by anyone. In fact, I lost my wallet with all my money in it and I was assured by one of our Project Coordinators that if I dropped it in our bus, I would get it back. Her assurance proved true, as the bus driver found the wallet and returned it a couple days later with all contents intact. A fellow participant also left her camera at a night market with “wall to wall” people. There were about 3,000 to 5,000 mostly young people there that Friday night, and after reporting to the store owner that she left it on the counter, it was found and returned to her next day.

Another interesting thing that stuck in my head was when a taxi driver who couldn’t speak English took me to an electronics shop to purchase a cell phone. When we got there, the shop owners also couldn’t speak English. What happened next was amazing. The taxi driver whipped out his cell phone and called the operator who was fluent in English. She assisted with the whole transaction by phone, and then asked if there was anything else I needed. It was great to see these different people come together and break through the language barrier to assist a stranger with a purchase. I think we could learn a lot from their attitude and sense of patriotism. Interestingly enough, the store owner refused to let me put my phone I bought from him in another company’s bag. And he made sure the equipment I bought from him was in his company’s bag displaying his logo and company’s information. They seem to be very serious about branding of products and businesses. One only has to look at the massive advertising signs sometimes the length of 15 and 20 storey buildings and how the country comes to life at night in neon lights of every colour.

On Monday, April 29, during the afternoon, we started to present the first set of Participants’ Reports. Each participant was required to give a Power Point Presentation on (1) his country – including social statistics, media development, government policy regarding the media industry and media infrastructure. (2) The major advantages and challenges your country faces regarding the media’s development and (3) A description of our jobs and our views on how we can contribute towards improving the media industry in our countries. These sessions brought out several startling revelations.

Next week I’ll discuss those as we travel by KRT bullet train to the City of Kaohsiung, the home for the 2009 World Games.