Voter-Funded Media for Taiwan

Mark Latham

Updated 2007-04-22
Minor corrections 2009-08-16

This report is based on my first visit to Taiwan, November 18 – December 16, 2005.

Main point: The Taiwan government could set a precedent for a new democratic principle (“let voters control some information funding”) by implementing voter-funded media for shareowners in a government-controlled publicly traded company such as China Steel Corporation.

Who I Am; What I Do

I am an economist doing independent research on democracy and voter information in civic politics and corporate governance (my résumé here).  During the past nine years I have developed a proposal to improve voter information by letting voters allocate some collectively owned funds to information providers.  I call this “voter-funded media” (VFM).

I have published it as a corporate governance proposal in numerous articles and shareowner resolutions submitted to American companies.  However, it has not yet been implemented anywhere.  In recent years I extended the idea to civic politics – see the paper “Voter-Funded Media” at

The development stage of this research is largely complete, and it is time for a test implementation, either for citizens voting in a political community, or for shareowners voting in a corporate board election.  My top priority now is to make such a test happen.  If it is successful, VFM can then spread to democracies and corporations around the world.

Why I Visited Taiwan

Three main reasons:

1. Taiwan has major universities where I can discuss research ideas with professors and students.

2. I had never been to Taiwan, in spite of my interest in Asia.  I have lived in India one year, in Japan four years (I can speak Japanese), in mainland China nine months, Singapore one month, Nepal one month, and visited Korea (five times), Thailand and Malaysia.  Somehow I had missed Taiwan, so was overdue for a visit.  The controversy about Taiwan’s political status added to my interest in learning more about it.

3. To study mandarin:  As I did in mainland China, I can study the language informally by living in a place where most people speak it.


These three were not reasons why I visited Taiwan:

1. I am not an expert or specialist on Taiwan.

2. Knowing little about Taiwan’s political system, I did not come with a particular agenda to fix its problems.  My research addresses problems I observed in the political economic systems I am most familiar with, in the USA and Canada.  But like any scientist, I want to learn from other contexts and explore possible applications anywhere.  It was only after deciding to visit that I learned that the quality and biases of political news media are a big political issue in Taiwan – a problem directly addressed by my VFM proposal.  I did not even know until after I arrived that there would be an election during my visit!

3. I have no particular stance on the controversial issue of Taiwan’s political status, nor any particular allegiance to either of Taiwan’s competing political factions (KMT/”blue” and DPP/”green”).  As I have found in the USA and Canada, since my main contribution is to propose an improvement to our democratic political systems, it would be a counterproductive distraction to ally with one side.  VFM should appeal to citizens regardless of their political allegiances.

Who I Met

Although I planned my Taiwan visit just 17 days before going, and knew almost no one there, I managed to contact and meet many helpful people.  (My thanks to all those who made this possible!)  Among those I met were people in these organizations and departments:



Bank of Taiwan

Board of Directors

FAME (Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence)

Hong Guey-san Law Firm


Hsing-Kuo University

International Business

National Chengchi University


National Taiwan University


National Taiwan University


National Taiwan University


National Taiwan University

National Development

National Taiwan University


Rotary Club


Shih Hsin University

Media Management

Shih Hsin University

Taiwan History

Taipei Fubon Bank

Foreign Exchange

Taiwan Central News Agency

Board of Directors

Taiwan Foundation for Democracy


Taiwan Government Information Office

Broadcasting Affairs

As I learned from these people about Taiwan politics, I got the impression that I met more “green”/DPP sympathizers than “blue”/KMT.  I will try to balance that out on my next visit, whenever that may be.

I gave three presentations on VFM to graduate student classes, at NTU College of Law, NTU Department of Finance, and at Shih Hsin University in journalism. The students asked many perceptive questions, and I think found my ideas interesting.

What I Learned

Since my research is about politics, in discussions with people I learned about Taiwan’s history and current political situation, gaining an overview like the one at .

Of particular relevance to the idea of VFM is the political polarization of Taiwan’s news media.  Many people told me that most Taiwan media are strongly partisan, either toward green/DPP or toward blue/KMT, and thus do not help voters make intelligently balanced political decisions.  For some discussion of these issues, see these Editorials at :
2005-11-24 Taiwan's media fails in its civic role
2005-12-28 Hopes still distant for public media
This news source itself evidently favours green/DPP, but nonetheless gives some idea of the state of Taiwan’s media.

A prominent media controversy is the current green/DPP administration’s battle with the TVBS cable TV network.  TVBS has become an influential critic of the greens, and the DPP government in 2005 moved to enforce against TVBS a law forbidding over 50% foreign ownership of a Taiwan media organization.  Apparently TVBS is Hong Kong owned through a Taiwan subsidiary.  See for example .

The government is now reorganizing media regulation under a new National Communications Commission (NCC), but the bipartisan negotiation process for nominating NCC members is inevitably polarized.  As the dust settles, it seems the NCC will be majority blue/KMT – see for example .

VFM offers a creative solution instead of a suppressive solution to media bias.  Rather than trying to restrict biased news and thus being accused of violating freedom of the press, the government could let voters control some information funding.  This would create new political news media more loyal to the interests of Taiwan voters.

However, it should first be tested on a small scale.

How to Test Voter-Funded Media in Taiwan

VFM is not a Taiwan-specific proposal.  I designed it originally to help people vote their shares in American corporations, then translated it to help citizens vote in democratic elections, again thinking mainly about the USA and Canada where I have lived.  But it should be useful wherever voters lack information, a globally pervasive problem.  Thus to test this proposal, almost anywhere will do (anywhere with competitive voting), and if successful it can spread globally regardless of where it started.

My current favorite candidates for test sites are university student council elections in Canada and the USA.  The reasons and test design are explained in Global Voter Media Platform.  Some of these student councils control substantial budgets (e.g. $2 million per year), and students are more open to trying something new and changing the world.

Student councils in Taiwan, however, have much smaller budgets, so it would not seem meaningful to spend the US$10,000 that I estimate it would take to fund a test.  There is not enough at stake, and voters may not feel enough need for better information.

Taiwan could just wait and see if VFM gets tested in the USA or Canada.  But I have barely started pitching the idea, so there is no telling when such a test might take place.  Perhaps there are other ways to test it in Taiwan.  A municipal or county election might be worth considering, except for two problems.  First, local elections were all recently held in December 2005, so will not come up again for four years.  Second, the test would require Taiwan National Assembly approval to amend the local election law, a substantial political undertaking likely to face opposition.

Another test strategy is for the Taiwan government to implement VFM for shareowners in a publicly traded corporation where the government holds a controlling stake, such as China Steel Corporation.  This would take the form of a “Proxy Advisor” proposal such as those shown here.  Shareowners would vote each year to hire one or more proxy advisors to give independent recommendations on how to vote in director elections and any other decisions in the following year’s proxy.  (Director elections are excluded from those proposals to satisfy a legal technicality that would not apply in Taiwan.)

Although corporate shareowner voting seems quite distinct from citizen voting in a democracy, voters in both settings face similar information problems.  The Taiwan government could thus set a precedent for a new democratic principle: that voters should control some information funding.  Spreading this principle across corporations and across democracies would then become a fundamental reform of political news media, creating new media organizations loyal to voter interests.

This corporate proxy advisor proposal has not yet gained enough support for test implementation in the USA.  The highest shareowner support so far has been a 20% “yes” vote in April 2004.  The USA does not have government-controlled publicly traded corporations, and boards of directors naturally oppose such a reduction in their autonomy and power, always campaigning against it.  Thus Taiwan has an opportunity to pioneer this innovation, setting a new standard for corporate governance and democracy.

As explained in the conclusion of the paper “Voter-Funded Media”, this reform can eventually reduce international tension by helping citizens of different countries find a consensus perspective on global problems.  By reducing corruption in democratic systems, it can also make democracy a more effective and attractive alternative for countries that have not yet chosen to become democratic.


Taipei 101