Taiwan Plus app banned in China

13 December 2022
The English-language service from PTS Taiwan was removed from the Apple App Store in November. It comes amid growing tensions over the media narrative between the two countries.
A screenshot of the Taiwan Plus homepage. Credit: Taiwan Plus

The English-language service from PTS Taiwan was removed from the Apple App Store in November. It comes amid growing tensions over the media narrative between the two countries.

PTS Taiwan’s English-language service, Taiwan Plus, has been banned from the Apple App Store in China. Taiwan Plus was notified by Apple in early November, as “it includes content that is illegal in China.” The news service said “it’s unclear what content it was referring to.”

Taiwan Plus was launched in 2021 as an English-language streaming platform, providing news, current affairs, culture and entertainment to audiences in Taiwan, as well as projecting Taiwan to the rest of the world. “Taiwan+ is an exciting new initiative to tell Taiwan’s story,” Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen said at the launch. “Generations of Taiwanese fought to transform this country into a vibrant democracy that protects freedom of speech and expression.”

The news service – which was recently given a licence to operate as a linear TV channel – fits within a broader move from the Taiwanese government to project a stronger and more defined voice for Taiwan internationally. It also demonstrates their desire to align with “countries that share our core values of freedom and democracy,” President Ing-wen said at the TV channel’s launch.

In large parts, international discourse around China and Taiwan has been largely dominated by China’s English-language state run television network, CGTN. China has used its international state-controlled media to wage what a Reuters Institute report called a “propaganda war against the west”, and expand its media footprint to shape domestic media narratives in other countries.

“Internationally our voice has not been fully heard,” said Taiwan’s Culture Minister Lee Yung-te, at the channel’s launch. “China continually disseminates that Taiwan is part of China, and lots of people believe that. You tell them that’s not the case, and they ask, why? So, in the future we’ll be using Taiwan’s own media to explain to the international community why that’s not so.”

In June, management of the streaming service was passed from the Central News Agency (the government’s national news agency) to PTS Taiwan, the country’s public service broadcaster. PTS World Taiwan – PTS’ own English-language service – has been merged with Taiwan Plus. This move has been critical for Taiwan Plus, ensuring that it has editorial independence over the content produced.

China is one of the most repressive and tightly controlled media ecosystems in the world. As such, the banning of Taiwan Plus comes as no surprise. It demonstrates the intolerance of independent media and the state’s restriction of citizens access to such news. Other international public service media organisations, such as the BBC World Service, have also experienced bans from broadcasting in the country. Access for journalists is regularly denied or hampered, as CBC/Radio-Canada recently experienced, which led to them closing their China bureau.

Conversely, Taiwan boasts one of the “freest and most competitive” media markets in Asia, according to the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report. But the threat currently being posed to Taiwan by China extends to the media. “The Chinese government’s efforts to influence policymaking, the media, and democratic infrastructure in Taiwan” remains an ongoing concern, according to Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2022 report.

As tensions escalate between the two countries, it is critical that Taiwan’s public media has a platform to report internationally. Despite the app’s ban in China, it remains available in other countries around the world.

PTS Taiwan is a member of the Public Media Alliance