Alexa

Media bears blame for social chaos

Media bears blame for social chaos

The year 2006 can be said to be a period in which the Taiwan media "successfully" generated intense antagonism and tension in Taiwan society. Under the influence of partisan interests and ideological bias, most mainstream print and electronic news media operated based on political allegiances, slanting coverage based on their preferences, mostly for the "blue" camp dominated by the former ruling Kuomintang or, less often, the "green" camp led by the governing Democratic Progressive Party.
The result, all too similar to the truism regarding the press in war, was that the "first casualty" was "truth" followed closely by intensified political and social confrontation and polarization that has undermined confidence in the health, effectiveness and future of Taiwan's democratization after over a half century of KMT authoritarian or monopoly rule.
Naturally, any society, especially a diverse democracy such as is developing in Taiwan, has a vast variety of different voices. Most are of a moderate and rational nature, with, by definition, a minority of extreme views, which should not thereby be assumed to be incorrect or deviant. Nevertheless, the mainstream of the most newspapers, magazines and news television stations has grossly exaggerated the influence of extremist views in our society by abandoning their proper role as "media" to accurately and fairly report and reflect on the state of our world for the benefit of the public.
Instead, virtually all of the media has adopted the style of "satellite news coverage" with virtually no checking of fact or verification of the accuracy or falsehood of "information" or "exposures" provided by extremist politicians and even providing 24-hour, seven-days-a-week "live" broadcast of extremist and even violent rhetoric or demonstrations, as was the case with the two month-long "Red Storm" movement launched to "depose" President Chen Shui-bian from September through late November.
Consequences include the acceleration of the erosions of the foundations of mutual social trust and even the creation of new threats to Taiwan's national security and to the welfare of our 23 million people.
A particularly worrisome trend has been the deliberate sensationalization and even glorification of violence, including claims of "legitimate" mass violence that can easily breed even more violence between people of different views or ethnicities. Examples include the "live" broadcast of violent clashes between adherents of the "Depose Chen" movement and opponents in Kaohsiung City and Tainan City in September, the disruption of the National Day celebrations on October 10 and the assault by "Depose Chen" activist Lin Cheng-chieh against "Contemporary" monthly editor Chin Heng-wei on a nationally broadcast television talk show.
Through the live broadcast and constant rebroadcast of such violence with either no or, even worse, one-sided condemnation for intensifying social divisions, the media fostered even more violent incidents and lent greater credibility to advocates of violent action for partisan objectives. Also, while it is absolutely correct and salutary for the news media to report on and expose cases of corruption or malfeasance by all levels of public officials and powerful business interests, such reporting should be aimed at the incident or the problem as well as at the implicated individuals.
Fairness and objectivity
Only "fair and objective" reporting can truly lead to the establishment and implementation of political and legal institutions that can curb corruption and uphold the interests of the public against abuses of power by public or private agencies or individuals. However, the overwhelming bulk of the coverage by the Taiwan print and electronic media of "scandals" in the past year has focused on allegations of malfeasance by some members of the Democratic Progressive Party government, such as the ongoing controversy over the use of presidential state affairs funds.
On the other hand, besides virtually ignoring the subsequent acquittals of most indicted DPP public officials, the media has devoted far less space or time to cover the convictions on even larger cases of corruption by numerous key figures in the former ruling KMT or the gross inequities involved in its continued possession of ill-gotten party assets and its efforts to "dispose" of such assets. Such slanting has contributed to the efforts by opposition leaders, such as KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, to "say goodbye to history" and whitewash one of the world's most institutionally corrupt political parties into a paragon of integrity while exaggerating the significance of individual cases of malfeasance in the DPP administration.
Moreover, through the obsession with individual cases, including "personality assassination," and ideological bias, the media have also deflected public attention from the historical and institutional roots of numerous cases of "corruption," such as the convoluted systems of special executive allowances, including the state affairs funds and impeded efforts to formulate and realize solutions to problems instead of simply punishing individuals and promoting partisan purposes.
The proper line of distinction between news coverage and partisan politics has been constantly and willfully transgressed during the past year, as demonstrated by uncritical, unverified and unbalanced coverage of "explosive exposures" by politicians, especially in the Legislative Yuan and "follow-up" propaganda through openly biased evening "political issue" talk shows.
The habit of "SNG" or "live" broadcast, which excludes the possibility of fact-checking or balancing, turns the news media into "24-7" propaganda agencies for politicians, especially of the most unscrupulous and extremist variety. Last but not least, numerous television stations and major newspapers have engaged in overt and partisan manipulation of voter sentiment through the publication of "public opinion polls" of dubious reliability.
Fortunately, the gap between the overwhelming pro-KMT tide in such polls, especially by outlets such as TVBS, the United Daily News and the China Times, and the actual views of Taiwan's citizenry were demonstrated by the actual results of the December 9 mayoral elections.
The expansion of freedom of expression and news freedom in the wake of democratization should have promoted political transparency and public citizen education and awareness and thus reduced the possibilities for both corruption and a restoration of authoritarianism. Instead, due to partisan bias and greed, Taiwan media has become one of the leading factors of "chaos" and is undermining hopes to realize genuine democracy and freedom of expression by these constant abuses of our unprecedented degree of news freedom.
In the coming year, we sincerely urge media owners, managers, editors and reporters to reverse this downward course and manifest the genuine value of news freedom through fair, accurate and impartial reporting.