Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Sensationalism undermines media

By Lu Shih-hsiang盧世祥

The post-election political scene is beginning to take shape. Although Premier Yu Shyi-kun's government has yet to resign, the media have nevertheless begun the game of making blind guesses about who will be in the new Cabinet.

The China Times reported that Lin Hsin-yi (林信義), convener of the president's eight-member economic advisory panel, would take over as premier, and a public announcement of the appointment would be made within a few days.

As soon as the report was published, the Chinese National Party (KMT) firmly opposed the potential nominee, saying it indicates that the government suffers from a dearth of talent.

The People First Party (PFP) said much the same. The Presidential Office, the body that is authorized to make the appointment, immediately released a statement to say that no one had yet been selected to take over as premier and that people should avoid wild speculation that could only cause difficulties.

The nature of the news media will not change overnight, but their love of speculation extends to their willingness to jeopardize their credibility and place possibly inaccurate reports on their front pages. News like this should instead be validated speedily.

Are the media so indifferent to their own reputations? Perhaps they believe that news only has a lifespan of a single day, or that the public has chronic amnesia.

Recall the guessing games surrounding a Cabinet reshuffle nine months ago. The Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence (新聞公害防治基金會) made a study of seven major newspapers and their speculation regarding new appointments last year.

We discovered that 43.5 percent of reports on personnel choices were incorrect, which means almost half of their predictions were untrustworthy.

The worst offender was the United Daily News, with 62.1 percent of its reports inaccurate, so out of 10 reports on appointments for the Cabinet, over six of them were incorrect.

"Chaotic" is one good way to describe the situation.

The most absurd must surely be the reports on the appointee for the National Youth Commission, for which there were seven "possible" appointees. Each paper reported that Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) would be appointed to a different position.

Lin may be a talented and well-connected individual, but prior to his confirmation as head of the Government Information Office (GIO), he was tipped for no less than five appointments, from head of the Council of Cultural Affairs to Executive Yuan spokesperson.

One cause for this confusion is that all reports are used without confirmation, and are exaggerated or intended to hype certain individuals.

The source of this problem is the use of anonymous sources. "Authoritative sources revealed," "high level officials said" and "officials in a position to know" are used, sometimes turned into a shorthand of "sources said," "we understand that" and so forth.

Given its accuracy, information from these sources seems no better than street corner gossip, and belies authority and implies a deceptive familiarity with events.

Compared to others, The Liberty Times had a lower incidence of false reporting. This is largely because the paper does not seek to scoop the others with speculation, but instead bases its reports on official government lists.

Also, it has a fast and accurate means of checking information, so the chances of making a mistake are much reduced.

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