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FOOD SAFETY: The media's disappointing coverage

FOOD SAFETY: The media's disappointing coverage

-- Regaining Taiwan's food reputation series (11) By Jeffrey Wu CNA staff reporter
As every aspect of society continues to come to terms with the widespread use of tainted oil in food products, the media should be scrutinized just as closely as any other actor in the series of scandals that rocked the country this year. The discovery of oil unfit for human consumption being used by major food maker Ting Hsin International Group has infuriated consumers and damaged trust in the domestic food industry. While the government has made after-the-fact efforts to patch up the flawed system that allowed this to happen, another question that must be asked is whether the fourth estate did its job in disclosing accurate and necessary information in a timely manner -- or whether it just captured scenes of conflict to attract public attention. "In terms of report volumes, media outlets have indeed fulfilled their social responsibility of fully disclosing food safety problems. But in terms of providing necessary information about people's lives and public interests, there is still much space for improvement," Lin Fu-yueh, spokesman of local watchdog group Taiwan Media Watch, told CNA. Food safety problems are worth more media coverage than softer issues like gossip because people are highly concerned about health issues and violations of the law, he asserted. The media should be offering useful information based on professional knowledge, like helping identify what is safe to eat, rather than concluding each report with vague commentary like "the public should pay close attention" to the matter. "I think our media need to improve in this area, and generally speaking, the print media is doing better than television news stations in providing complete and in-depth reports," said Lin, who is also an assistant professor at Chinese Culture University's Department of Mass Communication.
Media workers' reflections
A newspaper journalist who asked not to be named noted that while the media is obligated to disclose complete and necessary information, a tendency toward "excessive" and "speculative" reporting can cause panic. "Consumers get sick of excessive reports that are all done in the same pattern," she said. "My advice is to report only confirmed facts and to include responses from food producers in reports, instead of using sensational words like 'hit by' a scandal or 'problems spreading' in titles." A magazine journalist who also did not wish to be named criticized television news reports for creating fear by repeatedly broadcasting food safety news with sensational titles in their 24-hour broadcasts. She admitted though that it is difficult to avoid such a situation in Taiwan's highly competitive media environment, where television news channels are vying for higher audience ratings. Still, she urged more follow-up news about the development of food safety issues instead of only rushing to cover events as they break and then moving on to other topics. Another reporter for a business daily was more forgiving. He said it is normal to see over-the-top reporting on certain hot issues, calling it a necessary step in pursuing press freedom. "Just like the development of Taiwan's democracy, it may improve after passing through the chaos," he said.


Updated : 2021-10-17 07:48 GMT+08:00