Fri, Jan 28, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Media must stop trying to beguile audiences

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

Since the Government Information Office on Jan. 1 rearranged all the cable TV channels into several categories in accordance with program characteristics, tune-in ratings for news networks declined by 24 percent. Consequently, broadcast news media have been racking their brains trying to figure out a way to win back viewers.

As a result of fierce competition, that networks sensationalize the content of their news reports is nothing new. Over the past two years, news networks have developed three methods to attract higher ratings. First, news channels have indulged in covering stories about betel nut girls, exotic dancers and scantily clad ladies, and give extended coverage of young ladies wearing skimpy costumes or swimwear.

According to the management of one news channel, the strategy of selling sex is effective in boosting the ratings, and is now being used by various news networks. No wonder the news coverage of computer exhibitions held in Taiwan have focused on the sexy models posing coquettishly next to new products rather than the products themselves.

Second, now that the sexy bandwagon has swept across the nation, viewers will sooner or later find it tedious. The quick-witted news channels, therefore, have switched the direction of their reporting and appealed to viewers by producing so-called "exclusive" news reports. The idea may tempt the viewer flipping through the channels to pause and view the "exclusive" coverage -- filled with distorted or exaggerated content -- and with the word "exclusive" appearing prominently on the screen. These are little more than gimmicks used to lure viewers.

No matter how "exclusive" the news report is, many viewers are attracted simply because of the word "exclusive," so the strategy is successful in nudging up ratings.

Naive viewers seemingly still cannot see through the "exclusive" gimmick, and thus, the ruse is still being used by the majority of news networks.

Third, the news channels have recently started employing fear as a strategy to attract viewers. For instance, during the nation's typhoon season, news channels would repeatedly stress that an approaching typhoon was the strongest ever to hit the nation, and the anchorperson would remind viewers to stay tuned for the latest updates.

Furthermore, news channels would either interview astrologers or fortune tellers and ask them to give apocalyptic and catastrophic predictions that would frighten people.

Although these scare tactics are still in what appears to be a trial period, news networks have found it even more useful than the "exclusive" gimmick, especially after torrential rains hit the nation and the tsunami devastated much of Southeast Asia on Dec. 26. It is likely to be widely adopted by most of the news networks.

Commercial new networks pursuing ratings is unavoidable, and it is not practical to demand that they stop this practice. To win favor with viewers, news channels should enrich the content and enhance the quality of their reporting rather than continue to adopt more outrageous ways to deceive viewers in an attempt to boost ratings.

The public will eventually see through their tricks, so this strategy will not work in the long term. Time will tell if the proprietors of media outlets will realize the importance of this issue and stop duping their viewers.

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