Thu, May 25, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: It's time to lift media standards

It's been hard to miss the reports aired around the clock on cable news channels about the life and times of the late Lee Shuang-chuan's (李雙全) family. Lee, it will be remembered, was suspected by investigators of involvement in a train derailment in March and the murder of his Vietnamese wife.

Thanks to the TV stations' satellite news-gathering vehicles, which dutifully stand at the ready near Lee's family residence in Taitung County, viewers now not only get to learn all about Lee Shuang-chuan and his elder brother Lee Tai-an's (李泰安) likes and dislikes, but are also given a full-blown account of the Lees' educational background, childhood anecdotes, love stories and up-to-the-hour reports on what the family eats.

Electronic media coverage has also helped turn the Lee residence into a sightseeing destination, with tour buses bringing hundreds of visitors to get a glimpse of the "anti-celebrities." ETTV proudly announced earlier this week that its coverage of the Lees was up to episode number 65.

While the Taitung County government is probably inclined to thank the Lees and the electronic media for all the free PR and for boosting local tourism, discerning TV viewers could only be taken aback by the power of television -- prying under the pretense of news coverage and propagating distorted, voyeuristic values.

Since when is a suspected felon worthy of around the clock coverage by the news media? Why are the Lees being turned into TV stars? The question of whether Lee Tai-an is guilty or not is a matter for the justice system. If he is innocent, will the electronic media apologize for prying into his life and that of his 82-year-old father, Lee Chu-pao (李聚寶), these past two months?

Some may argue that the reporters are merely doing their job, catering to the public's insatiable curiosity to know what is happening. But a responsible news outlet should know better.

There is a world of difference between keeping the public informed and bombarding them with gossip and hearsay. The "Lee story" merely reinforces the notorious reputation of Taiwan's media.

According to the Taiwan Yearbook 2005, Taiwan has one of the highest numbers of satellite news-gathering vehicles per capita. The purpose of these vehicles is to deliver live coverage of breaking news. In Taiwan, they are simply the front line of the gossip mill.

Rather than reinforcing our negative image of Taiwan's media industry, couldn't the news outlets think and act "bigger"? For example, why not dedicate some more time and resources to international news? Taiwanese have an insatiable thirst for all things global, yet the amount and quality of news coverage of, say, the Iraq conflict, is abysmal.

There is a lot more happening around the world than in Taiwan alone, and it would be great if just a fraction of this made it to our small screens. Who really cares what Lee Tai-an ate today or why Lee Chu-pao always wears the same style of outfit?

Legendary American newsman David Brinkley once said that: "The one function that TV news performs very well is that when there is no news we give it to you with the same emphasis as if there were." Brinkley could easily have been talking about Taiwan.

While it is often argued that it is up to the viewers to choose if they want to turn on the TV, the media can't avoid responsibility for what makes headlines. Taiwan's electronic media outlets need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

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