Taiwan: ATJ monitoring shows layoffs and disruptions to reporting in 2020

The disruption of the global economy due to COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 exacerbated the commercial challenges already facing the media industry around the world. In Taiwan, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)’s affiliate, the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), documented the loss of more than 200 journalists’ jobs as a result of layoffs.

A masked medical staff walks out a Covid-19 coronavirus testing area outside the Taoyuan General Hospital, where a cluster of Covid-19 coronavirus infections were detected, in Taoyuan on January 19, 2021. Credit: Sam Yeh/AFP

On February 20, Next Magazine, a subsidiary of Next Digital, said it would cease publication on February 29. The ATJ found that the decision affected roughly 100 media workers, who were laid off without prior negotiations between the company and the labor union.

On June 1, the United Evening News announced it would cease publication from June 2 after 32 years in print. It said the decline of newspaper readership and the financial impact of COVID-19 were among the factors behind its closure.

Even though the newspaper promised to keep all the reporters and transfer them to other media outlets in the United Daily News Group, four sports reporters were fired. One later filed a complaint with Taipei’s Department of Labor.

On June 22, Taiwan’s Apple Daily announced it would lay off 140 employees, citing a plunge in advertising revenue and an operating loss due to the pandemic. The newspaper said in a statement 65 media workers from the digital content and newspaper departments, as well as 75 employees in the sales and administration departments, would be let go. The number accounted for roughly 13 percent of the total workforce.

Apple Daily’s labor union later expressed “regret and confusion” over the company’s decision. “Colleagues have been very cooperative in recent years as the company sought transformation, but they are now asked to bear the consequences of unsuccessful developments,” it said.

In addition to layoffs, the pandemic disrupted journalists’ work. In March 2020, eight Taiwanese journalists were placed in 14-day self-isolation and two foreign correspondents were asked to closely monitor their health for two weeks because they had come into contact with a COVID-19 patient.

Australian composer Brett Dean traveled to Taipei from February 23 to March 2 for performances, but was diagnosed with COVID-19 on March 5 after returning to Australia. Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, a special task force that leads the country’s coronavirus response,laterlisted as contacts 10 journalists who had interacted with Dean during press events.

The ATJ’s monitoring showed that authorities continued to prevent journalists from covering important or controversial issues, sometimes using violence to do so. From July to October, more than five reporters were blocked by the police and staff members of the Railway Bureau from covering protests against an underground railway project in the southern city of Tainan. In November, journalists were refused entry to a meeting of the Agriculture Council, even though such events are conventionally open to the press.

The ATJ also expressed concern over the authorities’ decision to reject the broadcast license renewal application of cable news stationChung T’ien Television (CTiTV) on November 18. The ATJ called on the regulator to provide a full explanation to the press and public as well as the station to ensure employees’ rights. CTiTV was closed down on December 11 after appeals failed. 

The ATJ commented: “Having layoffs as a way of cutting costs will directly lower journalistic quality, which is by no means how a media organisation can maintain sustainable business.”

The IFJ said: “The IFJ is concerned at the layoffs of journalists at a time when they might face more financial precarious situations. We call on media organisations to guarantee fired workers good severance treatment.”

The IFJ also urged the Taiwanese authorities to refrain from obstructing journalists reporting on site and to ensure journalists’ safety at all times.

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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