Mon, Apr 12, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Nation is being torn apart by media bias

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

Who is it that is tearing Taiwan apart? If one asked this question during the election, one was certain to be painted either blue or green. With the election over, I still want to ask who it is, really, that is tearing Taiwan apart.

Based on the election outcome, it is very hard to assert that ethnicity lies at the center of the problem.

What really is tearing Taiwan apart is political ideology, and the media -- television in particular -- is the main culprit in this ideological confrontation.

The reason for this is that almost every TV station, which of course should be objective and fair, held to its own opinion during the election campaign. This situation was worst among the terrestrial TV stations -- when one station aired pan-blue content, another station immediately aired pan-green content. And when the loser claimed that the election was unfair, partisan terrestrial stations immediately transformed into live news stations. Not only did they suspend all other programming, but their news programs also became filled with indiscriminate criticism. Government-friendly TV stations immediately struck back.

When a TV station holds an unambiguous opinion, people of the same opinion flock to that station, causing viewer ratings to go up. TV stations then start attracting viewers according to their political beliefs, instead of according to age groups.

A particular phenomenon during the election was that as soon as people returned home, they turned on their TV sets only to look for news and political programs conforming with their own ideologies. The radical contents of these programs continuously strengthened their own position, forming a confrontational political mindset. Thus, if we now ask a pan-blue supporter which TV station is more fair, he is certain to say China Television (CTV), and if we ask a pan-green supporter the same question, the answer will be Formosa Television (FTV). These two stations were also among the three stations with the highest viewer ratings on election day, which is evidence that Taiwan really is being torn apart by the media.

When the media are transformed into a profit-based commodity, viewer ratings and advertising profit become their main management indicators. Traditionally, TV stations' market segmentation strategies for programming have focused on age groups. For example, programs with stars focus on young people and programs with local color compete for the middle-aged and older market. But how do you target news programs?

The news media have discovered that ideology is the main tool for segmenting the viewer market. In their hunt for viewer ratings, they disregard the question of what the media really are and use ideology to compete for viewers. The result is that pan-blue supporters watch CTV and pan-green supporters watch FTV, thereby planting the seeds of division.

These confrontational political ideologies are spreading with the media's vicious strategies for gaining market share. As a result, ideological political confrontation has increased, reaching its highest point during the election and tearing Taiwan apart in the follow-up. The biggest victims of the media's wilful tearing-apart of Taiwan are the Taiwanese people and society. The biggest winners are the media, with their soaring ratings and high profits.

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