Fri, Jun 17, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Measures needed to clean up the media

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

The recent scandal surrounding People First Party (PFP) Taipei City Councilor and talk show host Mike Wang (王育誠) was a poignant example of the biased and degenerated media culture in Taiwan.

Wang made false (and likely intentional) accusations against six local restaurants. He accused them of selling or reselling food purchased from funeral parlors. The allegation later turned out to be manufactured by members of the city councilor's staff. Although Wang has refused to step down from his post and has blamed the incident on his underlings, the fiasco nonetheless illustrates the unhealthy relationship between politicians and the media.

In today's world of 24-hour news and instant information, where public opinion can change in a flash and missteps are magnified to grandiose proportions, the role of the press should be not only descriptive but also educational.

Regretfully, most people live in the real world, with their hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties, but they are not very good at figuring complex political matters. This leaves rooms for some self-interested politicians to maneuver and exploit the public.

The idea that the media has the power to mold public opinion drives editors, reporters and talk-show hosts to exaggerate and even make up news. Even though the public has complained about this kind of behavior, the people who complain are usually the type of people who are not so influenced by it.

The decades of change in Taiwanese politics and growing press freedom have given birth to intense competition and a decline in the quality of media coverage. Considering that things in Taiwan are so often politicized, the media has gradually lost its focus. Instead, we are seeing a lack of professionalism and an over-emphasis on trivial or sensationalized stories.

As the media gradually loses its self-discipline, it is increasingly becoming a tool for politicians and people with vested interests. Media managers and politicians often believe that newspapers and TV news are all-powerful. But they are wrong. Both believe that politicians are very effective in manipulating what the media says. Wrong again. They are deeply convinced that the media can easily lead voters. Still wrong.

Because of the biased media culture, all parties related to the Mike Wang fraud case automatically fell into the typical cycle of political maneuvering. But the public eventually got the truth in the end -- and they responded. The Wang incident serves as the best example of how the public can hit back.

Opinion polls show that people have become highly suspicious of the media and increasingly sophisticated in spotting its attempts at manipulation. The public now sees the media as a kind of special-interest group, no more objective or independent than any other social group in presenting its view.

Perhaps this is the best time to reform the media. To construct a well-established and institutionalized media culture, several approaches must be taken, and some positive steps have already been made. Through the Radio and Television Law (廣播電視法), political parties and the military no longer manage media outlets.

Also, the public should exert pressure on politicians and political parties to withdraw from operating or having influence on media firms. People like Wang should cut ties with the press.

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