Image credit: TITV and Alian Radio title on CTV Building 20180101 by Solomon203 /Creative Common, license CC BY-SA 4.0

Written by Chia Sui Crystal Sun

What can indigenous media do in Taiwan? At its best it can strengthen indigenous identities by showcasing tribal heritage, helping to maintain local languages and providing a public sphere for debate about indigenous issues. Indigenous media can also convey significant meaning as an indicator of cultural and societal change.

When indigenous society encounters change, media is an important means to engage with social movements, cultural changes and the maintenance of endangered languages. From a cultural policy perspective, indigenous media records and preserves traditions, enhances and facilitates cultural forms such as music and crafts, and can also build connections to the wider world. Quality media productions can positively represent indigenous people and raise cultural visibility.

To become truly multicultural, society needs to value and advance each indigenous ethnic group

Taiwan Indigenous Television (TITV) is the most representative organisation of indigenous media in Taiwan and is governed by the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Foundation. TITV’s mission is to “develop themes dedicated to indigenous peoples and guarantee their right to have access to broadcast and other forms of media”. TITV offers programs in Chinese and indigenous languages and includes news programs designed to build dynamic connections to a wider world by showing major events in global indigenous communities. In 2017 under authority of the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Foundation, Alian 96.3 joined TITV to provide greater variety for audiences and to explore indigenous issues.

Some indigenous television cultural workers use social media to create online indigenous language apps designed for indigenous communities. These apps enhance local education systems and reinforce indigenous identities. Journalists also use social media to interact with audiences and receive direct feedback. Audience feedback can lead to improved effectiveness, but as yet Taiwan’s indigenous media are still not close to rivalling mainstream media.

The limitations and problems of indigenous media are highlighted in language issues, which are a major source of conflict and have sparked important arguments. Indigenous media lack workers fluent in indigenous languages. For many years only Indigenous Television News could provide fully indigenous language news programming as a result of pairing senior anchors with juniors for training.

Initially TITV was criticised for not providing enough programming in indigenous languages, before it trained more workers and produced more appropriate programs. Many viewers may be put off by having to read subtitles to understand the news due to a seemingly politically correct way of sustaining languages and identities. There are many people who cannot understand Taiwan’s indigenous languages and many youths whom cannot speak their native language. Language usage remains a highly debated issue for TITV.

With so many indigenous languages, TITV has difficulty covering them all. Which indigenous language is most representative of indigenous peoples and which should be most often used for broadcast? Indigenous Television News tries to use varying  languages, present journalists from varying ethnic groups, and broadcast news for ethnic groups through linguistic and cultural translation at varying days and times. Although some audiences do enjoy programs in their native language, many viewers tune out due to its unfamiliarity.

To become truly multicultural, society needs to value and advance each indigenous ethnic group. Indigenous media plays an important role in bridging the gaps audiences need to cross to understand media content. Understanding also involves cultural translations and indigenous media must find suitable concepts to appropriately connect ethnic groups. Conflicts can occur when ancient traditions encounter the modern world, but indigenous media can acts as a platform for indigenous voices and also provide unique interpretations.

For example, due to gender taboos, many ethnic group anchors feel it impolite to say ‘breast’ in public. This taboo can be problematic when anchors need to discuss breast cancer prevention. One possible solution is for anchors to use ‘fig’ as a traditional word for replacing breasts, but younger audiences may not understand such nuance. This difficulty highlights the cultural translation problems still facing indigenous media.

Indigenous media can also assist marketing of tribal goods like agricultural products, arts and crafts, and other unique products made with cultural knowledge, local historical memories and tribal lore. Media has become key to raising awareness of indigenous cultures and products at national and international levels. Media can also introduce local artists, writers, musicians, dancers and other traditional specialists to a wider audience and thereby enhance the cultural value of local and traditional knowledge.

TITV has taken several steps to improve its position as representative of Taiwan’s indigenous media. First, younger workers were trained in indigenous languages and cultural translations. Second, new words were developed to adapt to modern concepts. Third, new technology will be exploited. For example, artificial intelligence can be used to learn indigenous languages and apps can be developed to provide translation.

As Alia and Bull pointed out, the internet has heralded a new era in communications and also created opportunities for ethnic minorities to communicate their world views, cultural products and commerce to a global audience. In particular, social media is widely used by young indigenous people to debate social issues and get involved with different social movements.

Social media and mobility will affect tribes in different ways for health issues and emergency response. In remote areas, social media is sometimes the only way to call for help when disaster strikes. Modern media must be intertwined with daily life to provide assistance in emergencies.

Indigenous media in Taiwan faces developmental difficulties but can, despite the large number of languages and relatively small audience, reveal rich and unique cultures. It is important to examine the transformation of indigenous media and its attempts to meet the needs of its audiences.

Chia Sui Crystal Sun is a Professor in the Department of Indigenous Languages and Communication, National Dong Hwa University. Her research focuses on communication and culture, journalism and representation globalisation, cultural creative industry and cultural policy. 

This article was first published in Taiwan Insight

*Articles published by The Asia Dialogue represent the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of The Asia Dialogue or affiliated institutions.

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