Tue, Aug 02, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Taiwan's media needs discipline

The Government Information Office (GIO) sunday announced its decision to revoke the licenses of seven cable-TV channels. This move by the GIO is directed at keeping the chaotic situation in media circles in check. Although the GIO's decision is not going to engender instant results, it has at least responded positively to calls for "containing the chaotic and disorganized circumstances of the media."

The Legislative Yuan and the media have long been considered the two major culprits responsible for the nation's increasing social maladies. The GIO's rejection of the cable-TV license renewal applications is just the first step toward reforming the media. There is still much to be done by the government, the public and media proprietors alike.

Taiwan, which covers an area of a mere 36,000km2 with a population of 23 million people, currently has more than 100 cable-TV channels to choose from. Such a high number is definitely a global miracle, symbolizing the freedom and diversity of the media in Taiwan, but also representing the vicious competition resulting from media saturation.

The growing number of TV channels only results in shrinking revenues. Besides, with limited production expenditures, the quality of TV programs cannot help but deteriorate as most of the producers can only make do with whatever is available. What's worse, most of the TV networks only seek to follow media crazes and plagiarize the ideas behind more successful or popular programs on other networks.

Although there are numerous news channels, most of them only follow or reproduce the contents of the print media, rather than creating something unique or distinctive. This has a lot to do with unprofessional journalists and inadequate training. In addition, the use of Satellite News Gathering (SNG) broadcast services has also been abused, leading to news coverage being sensationalized and the public mood becoming easily agitated. Although there are a lot of programs featuring talk shows with political topics, they are mostly ideology-driven, with the host and the guests often engaging in political bickering and unable to come to any agreement.

Undaunted, the GIO has finally decided who retains the right to run TV networks and whose licenses have to be revoked. Media outlets with unrenewed licenses are very likely to accuse the government of trampling press freedom. However, it is the existing law that empowers the GIO to exercise this right. Over the years, media outlets in Taiwan have been reluctant to practice self-discipline and stick with journalistic principles.

Media management is an important social project. In a country that enjoys press freedom, the government's responsibility is to build a healthy and organized media environment. But after the over-excessive opening up of the nation's media, it will take a lot of effort for media outlets to adjust themselves and conform to established rules or practices. The priority for the government should be establishing a mechanism for approving and/or renewing licenses to run a media outlet. This is an unavoidable responsibility of the GIO or the National Communications Commission.

Both the government agencies governing TV channels and radio stations as well as media-monitoring groups should create a database for a long-standing supervision program. All the data collected could act as a reference for administrative management for either rewards or punishments, or the withdrawal of licenses.

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