Jul 04, 2007

Taiwan: Indigenous TV's Second Anniversary

As Taiwan’s Indigenous Television channel (TITV) celebrates its second anniversary, much remains to be done to improve the situation of the island’s aborigines.

As Taiwan’s Indigenous Television channel (TITV) celebrates its second anniversary, much remains to be done to improve the situation of the island’s aborigines.

Below are extracts from an article written by Cindy Sui and published by the International Herald Tribune:


The two-year-old Channel 16, which marked its second anniversary Sunday, aims to help the island's 470,000 aborigines regain a sense of pride in their long-devastated cultures. The station also hopes to raise consciousness in Taiwan's larger society about aborigines, who make up less than 2 percent of the population but have inhabited the island for thousands of years, longer than the majority Han Chinese.

It comes at a time when Taiwan's government is eager to promote local heritage and underscore its separateness from mainland China, which considers the island a breakaway province. TITV [ Taiwan Indigenous TV] is one of a small number of stations devoted to telling the stories and preserving the cultures of indigenous peoples, along with Canada's Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and New Zealand's Maori Television, among others.

"In the past, Taiwan's aborigines didn't feel comfortable expressing our culture in mainstream society because there was a lot of discrimination," said TITV's director, Masao Aki, who is an aborigine. […]

"Only by having our own TV station are we able to have discussions about issues that concern us and have aborigines' point of view heard in Taiwan's media, laws, education, et cetera," he said in an interview. "And only when we have a joint way of expressing ourselves as a group can we realize who we are."

Aborigine advocates had discussed a channel since the 1980s, and a Han Chinese legislator from a small political party, hoping to win aboriginal votes, publicly proposed it in the late 1990s. TITV went on the air July 1, 2005.

Previously, the only programs about Taiwan's 13 officially recognized indigenous tribes - people of Austronesian heritage similar to those in Australia, the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia - were two once-a-week shows on public television. Mainstream stations' reports were rare or tended to promote stereotypes.

With about 100 workers and 350 million Taiwan new dollars, or about $10.6 million, in annual government funding, TITV offers 24-hour programming, including news, interviews and aboriginal language lessons, as well as a music and a cooking show, and soon, the first aboriginal situation comedy.

The station regularly invites experts, including doctors and academics, to address issues like alienation among aboriginal youth, alcohol abuse and the encroachment on aborigines' land by development projects. Aborigines have shorter life spans and higher unemployment and suicide rates than the rest of Taiwan's population.


But TITV faces many challenges, including the large number of aboriginal languages, and the difficulty hiring aborigines with the right skills.

Some critics say the station is not doing enough to promote tribal languages that face extinction.

Few aborigines younger than 40 are fluent in their tribal language, and less than 5 percent of children are believed to able to speak their tribal language at all, thanks to previous government efforts of assimilation.

"The station should do more to reverse this trend, but most of its broadcast is in Mandarin," said Namoh Rata, an aboriginal language professor at National Dong Hwa University in eastern Taiwan.

Masao, the station director, said it would be difficult to broadcast mostly in aboriginal languages because there are so many. "Which language do you choose?" he asked.

Other than the language lessons and weekly news broadcasts in the major tribes' languages, most of TITV's programs, including the daily news, are in Chinese.

Janubark, an aboriginal ethnic relations scholar at National Dong Hwa University, said tribes would benefit more if each had its own station in its own language. "That would be more helpful in preserving our languages and cultures, which is what Taiwan's aborigines need most," said Janubark, who uses only one name.

But there is no financing for multiple stations, and TITV has difficulty maintaining aboriginal staffing at its current level of 87 percent, given the lower educational levels among indigenous peoples. Most of the station's technical jobs go to Han Chinese.

Even so, TITV's critics say the station has had a significant impact in a short time. Mainstream stations have picked up numerous stories the station has broken.