Mon, Nov 05, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Our politics and media are too close for comfort

By Weber Lai 賴祥蔚

Do fair elections really exist? This is a valid but oft-neglected question that has once again ignited fiery debates recently.

The Taiwan Media Watch Foundation (台灣媒體觀察基金會) recently released a critique of politicians waltzing into the media as well as media workers jumping into politics. The foundation believes these practices have led to the abuse of public apparatus for personal ends -- thus leading to unfair elections.

However, unfairness is not limited to this field when it comes to the entanglement of politics and the media. The partiality reaches into at least three levels: structure, resources and manipulation skills.

In terms of structure, the political leanings behind media ownership leads to a fundamentally unfair situation. In the past, the KMT controlled Taiwan's three terrestrial TV stations and the Broadcasting Corporation of China (中廣). The party used its control of the media to shape public opinion to its own advantage. Being in a disadvantageous position, the opposition naturally called loudly on political parties, government and the military to withdraw from the media.

The government's policy at the time was not to withdraw from the media, but to bring the opposition into it, opening the way for a fourth terrestrial TV channel and a massive liberalization of radio frequencies. The DPP then started Formosa TV (民視) and a number of medium- and low-power radio stations, while the New Party people also made some small gains. The calls for the separation of media from politics subsided drastically.

After Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) came to power, the government was still unwilling to let go of media resources under government and military control. Instead, it has followed the KMT's ways.

Also, the much-criticized TV hosts are but one possible tool for politicians. Money remains the most flexible resource.

Money can buy advertise-ments. It can also be used to arrange specific program guests. The more money you can fork out, the better you can highlight yourself and thus drown voters in propaganda. This unfairness caused by money politics in the media is deeply harmful.

Even though the Election and Recall Law (選罷法) sets ceilings for campaign funds, they have not been effectively enforced. According to calculations based on related rules, a legislative candidate's campaign funds should not exceed NT$10 million. This amount is chicken feed compared to the amount of funds actually raised, which easily go up to hundreds of millions of NT dollars -- enough to prevent the average citizen from dreaming about running in any election. This in turn makes for further injustice.

Apart from money, the rights to host programs and write regular columns should also be considered resources. While the so-called "Sisy Chen phenomenon" (陳文茜, former DPP propaganda chief turned TV host and legislative candidate) may be representative of media workers going into politics, it is by no means the first of its kind. To be fair, democratic elections are a publicity contest in the first place. It is only natural for people to run in elections once they become famous.

Finally, it is similarly unfair that those who know how to manipulate the media should enjoy an advantage. Media insiders can communicate in ways familiar to the media and naturally gain more for their efforts. From defining news topics to decorating the venue of a press conference, to contacting reporters, to writing press releases -- all of these can lead to unfairness.

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