Wed, Apr 07, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Media now a catalyst for unrest

By Xiang Yang 向陽

With the pan-blue camp's April 3 demonstration having ended and the protesters in front of the Presidential Office having been dispersed by the police, we have earned a temporary calm after more than two weeks of political unrest. The weather in Taipei was fine on Monday, and the stock market rose sharply, providing concrete evidence that what our society needs is reason and peace.

The calls from religious leaders, women's organizations and business and student associations for the government and opposition to maintain their cool and heal the wounds of the election with care and tolerance is further evidence of the existence of a middle-of-the-road force. This force often remains silent, but it makes up the mainstream of society and is invaluable at crucial moments.

The media originally belonged to this middle-of-the-road force. They are society's conscience and the protectors of the public. Regrettably, the media's reporting during and after the presidential election has added to the political conflict and unrest, without regard for the media's function as a fourth estate independent of executive, legislative and judicial authority.

The media have instead deteriorated into a center for instigating unrest, expanding the confrontation between government and opposition, and misleading readers and viewers. They have even intervened in the political conflict, willing to become the mouthpieces of political parties and lead society into a state of chaos, anxiety, doubt and worry, which in turn has led to social and ethnic division. These are serious issues that media professionals must face at this crucial moment.

There are political and legal mechanisms to decide who is right and who is wrong in a political conflict. The media must do all it can to verify that there are no mistakes in their reporting and that it is not prejudiced. They also have a responsibility to eliminate the use of emotional or biased language, wording and images. This is the only way to do right by readers and viewers belonging to neither the pan-blue nor the pan-green camp.

A reality check, however, shows that from before the election to this day, our media -- the electronic media in particular -- still include avoidable bias. This has led to hostility between the pan-blue and pan-green camps, an increasing blurring of the truth and a nervousness among the public who no longer feel at ease going about their daily lives.

Although the political unrest was not created by the media, their excessive participation has become a catalyst for unrest, and they can therefore not escape responsibility.

I'll give a few examples. On election day, the electronic media had promised to promptly report on the vote-counting process. But apart from a minority of media that reported the Central Election Commission's data, the specialized news stations differed greatly in their reporting of the number of votes won by the two tickets. Preposterously, some reports even differed by hundreds of thousands of votes.

Such obvious manipulation of the vote-counting process to influence the mood of readers and viewers not only violates the ethical and professional demands on news reporting and tramples on the rights and interests of readers and viewers, but also misled voters from both camps. Pan-blue supporters went mad with joy as they saw the inflated numbers, which led to disappointment when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) lost by a minuscule margin.

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