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Media in Taiwan lacks social responsibility

Media in Taiwan lacks social responsibility

When United States President Barack Obama publicly commended Taiwan as a coalition partner in the global fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the media in Taiwan were quick to pounce on the subject with embellishments served to inflate his view. Political talk shows all dove in at 8 p.m. Sunday to bicker about the island’s military capability, possible contributions to the coalition, and among other brouhahas.

Following an evening of hype, media reports then suggested that Obama’s mention of Taiwan would lead it to become an ISIL target as the terrorist group recently attacked Paris and blew up a Russian commercial jet.

In early February, the media also took a spin on a Twitter posting from an alleged IS-affiliated account that included a photo depicting Taipei's cityscape burning, suggesting that the group was threatening an "Islamic State attack" on an unspecified city. According to reports, the media again blew this story out of proportion by accrediting the tweet to an imminent attack on Taipei.

All this frenzy seemed a bit far-fetched and unrealistic to the extreme.

Although it is understandable that the local media would get overzealous every time Taiwan is mentioned on the international arena, the sad truth is that the media (TV network) itself is seemingly incapable (or reluctant due to rating) of making in-depth analysis and reporting of facts. As it was the case with Obama’s comments about Taiwan, they simply forgo the opportunity to educate their viewers regarding the power struggle in Syria or Iraq, and the Syrian refugee crisis – let alone the realities of the situation.

Political programs and over-commercialized shows (including tabloid news) have since become accomplices to the destruction of public knowledge in current international affairs.

The media in Taiwan, besides being controlled by business groups, are also often backed and controlled by political parties, whose manipulation has often made reporting on political and social events twisted by political ideologies. Much reporting of facts are done without prior verification, and in many instances carelessly fabricated, embellished and insubstantial.

Examples such as when former president Chen Shui-bian proposed a referendum in 2007 asking the people whether Taiwan should apply to join the United Nations under the name “Taiwan.” While the intentions were good, – to find a global voice for the island’s 23 million people – chances that Taiwan could enter the world governing body is close to impossible (even if it applied by the national title of Republic of China).

Why? It’s because any application to the U.N. by Taiwan would have no chance of succeeding, because China, as a member of the U.N. Security Council, would have veto power. And unless by some Godsend miracle the mainland would one day “wear out” on Taiwan, all it could do is to wait at the U.N. admission doorstep and nothing would ever happen. But none of this was explained, analyzed or reported in the local media. Instead, it was manipulated by party politics to report on the massive rallies and demonstrations in downtown Taipei like it was some kind of soap opera.

As in a democracy, the media bears social responsibilities, as its influence on politics and society in general is tremendous. These are issues that members of the Taiwan media must consider and reflect. Moreover, the pursuit of media professionalism, self-discipline, and reform is imperative for the nation.

Although Taiwan is mostly irrelevant in world politics because of its isolation in the international community (due to China’s oppression), the local media (and especially TV networks) has done a piss poor job of giving enough air time to international news coverage. The hourly news broadcasts – mostly based on useless paparazzi, traffic accidents, food, and anything cute or cuddly – will not help enrich people’s knowledge on world affairs, including geography or history.

According to media insiders, Taiwan’s media organizations’ failure to provide sufficient high-quality international news could be a result of their lack of vision, as news outlets focus only on trivial and sensational stories to attract high ratings.

A journalism professor at National Chengchi University once said that although there is demand for serious global news coverage in Taiwan, media operators are often reluctant to make the investment, citing that the choice of content broadcast is often bizarre.

While Taiwan’s media providers continue to chase TV ratings for its small but rapid turnover, no investment will ever be made in self-improvement, let alone the public.

So until changes are made, viewers and readers in Taiwan can continue to remain content with reading or watching only tabloid-style political news.

Updated : 2021-09-27 19:36 GMT+08:00