As the Taipei Times reported, last year a German citizen was told upon his arrival at Taoyuan airport (near Taipei) that he had to leave the country. To his amazement, he was informed that he had been banned from entering Taiwan for three years. Just imagine how shocking it must have been for him to be sent back home after such a long journey. But why was he banned?
He had allegedly taken part in an anti-nuclear demonstration in the Southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, on June 2011. Apparently this constituted a violation of the Immigration Act, since he had engaged in activities that were not related to his purpose of residence or visit. Banning a foreign citizen from entry into the island for taking part in political activities doesn’t seem to be very progressive.
This is not the only such case. In September 2010 a Japanese national was deported because he had raised a banner in support of Taiwan’s independence (many people do not seem to understand that a certain part of Taiwan’s population and political leadership are against Taiwan’s independence; but that’s another story) (ibid.).
DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) criticised the immigration law for being outdated. Among other things, the law prescribes that activities “endangering public safety, social order and national interests” can be sufficient ground for the expulsion of foreign nationals.
If something like this had happened in China, I assume that Western media would have talked about it extensively. Just as they talked about the recent cases of journalists who were denied visas by the PRC government. These cases involving Taiwan, on the contrary, went entirely unnoticed in the West.
Having said that, the purpose of my post is not to bash Taiwan or to say that Taiwan is like the PRC. In fact, not only can media in Taiwan write freely about this topic and criticise the government, but the politicians themselves, both from the DPP and the KMT, seem receptive to the issue of modifying the laws to allow at least more predictability in dealing with such cases. Therefore, the democratic principles still work, and they contribute to public debate and the improvement of the legislation.
My point is a different one: how is it possible that international media offer extensive coverage of certain news but seem to be completely unaware of others? And what are audiences actually interested in?
The extreme success of tabloids like Apple Daily or Bild Zeitung, and channels like Fox News seem to suggest: people want emotions. They want to read news that make them feel angry, sad, upset, threatened etc. The purpose of news is supposed to be that of informing the public, but it has increasingly become focused on arousing people’s feelings.
In post-independence America, the founding fathers hoped that the press would become a vehicle through which to stimulate public involvement, a function that has been described by a historian through the metaphor “town meeting”. That is, the press is the equivalent of a town assembly on a large scale (see McChesney 1997, p. 11).
In recent decades, however, the press has become less and less a vehicle of democratic development, and more and more a branch of the entertainment industry and a platform for political propaganda. Legendary are the words of NBC News President, Reuven Frank, who once instructed his journalists saying: “Every news story should, without any sacrifice of probity or responsibility, display the attributes of fiction, of drama. It should have a structure and conflict, problem and denouement, rising action and falling action, a beginning, a middle and an end” (quoted in: Gunther et al. 2004, p. 250). This was long before Fox News or Next Media. China is an interesting example of this phenomenon.
When China was poor, no one cared about it. It was just a marginal country in the perception of Western audiences, and it didn’t appear very often in the media. Nowadays, China is ubiquitous. Just google the words ‘China’ and ‘news’, and you will get hundreds, thousands, or even millions of articles. You will find much less about Mongolia, Kazachstan, or Denmark.
China polarises because it is getting rich and powerful, and because it can be depicted as a threat to the West. Demonizing China has become a persistent theme in Western journalism. By the way, I want to point out that demonizing China and criticising China are two completely different processes. I believe that criticism is always a positive thing. But demonizing means stirring up emotions and instincts, talking to the irrational part of human beings, not in order to let them think, but in order to make them hate and worry.
I think that in the light of this phenomenon there is a lot of truth to the Chinese view that Westerners demonize China and only talk about the negative sides of the country.
Just a few days ago I was watching a YouTube video, a talk between documentary film maker Michael Moore and economics professor Robert Reich. Mr Reich mentioned an interesting episode that happened to him. He and a Republican were guests on a TV show. They were discussing calmly and rationally. During a TV commercial, a producer asked Reich to be more angry. He was surprised and said he didn’t want to be angry. But the producer insisted, saying that there are hundreds of channels on air, and viewers stop to watch only when they see something that attracts their attention, like two people getting furious at each other. Indeed, emotions polarise. If you stir up your audience’s emotions, you know you will succeed. But the audience itself pays a heavy long-term price, in form of lower quality, less neutrality, and less information.