Wed, Jun 21, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Media lacks social responsibility

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

The recent controversy over whether two talk show hosts of the cable station TVBS -- Lee Tao (李濤) and his wife, Lee Yen-chiu (李豔秋) -- provided an opposition lawmaker with information that formed the basis of allegations of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) accepting a large amount of vouchers from Sogo Department Store has sparked a debate on the role of the media in Taiwan's politically divided society.

The truth has yet to be revealed, but the issue highlights an even more serious problem that necessitates a careful study. Lee Tao's talk show, 2100 Quan Min Kai Jiang (2100全民開講), has been on the air for more than a decade. Some argue that after the first ever change in the ruling party in 2000, the show has played a major role in exacerbating the pan-blue and pan-green division. In the past two years, in particular, the show has hired a team composed of pan-blue legislators, journalists, politicians and former and incumbent prosecutors to criticize the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government.

The show's disclosure of former DPP deputy secretary-general Chen Che-nan's (陳哲男) alleged involvement in bribery and gambling last year has been brandished as a huge blow to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) popularity and ignited a series of scandals that allegedly involved members of the first family.

However, the way Lee and his so-called coterie of "famous speakers" have conducted themselves throughout this affair shows a shameless lack of journalistic ethics and professionalism that poses a danger to the nation's democracy because of the implied negative connection between politicians and media personnel.

In today's atmosphere of 24-hour news and instant information, where public opinion can change in a flash and missteps are magnified on a grand scale, the role of the press should not only be that of a fact-describer but also a valuable educator.

Regretfully, the changes in domestic politics over the last two decades, as well as the liberalization of the media industry, have given birth to intense competition and a lowering of the quality of Taiwanese media. With the way things are often politicized in the country, the media has gradually lost its focus.

Aside from the lack of professionalism, there has been an overemphasis on trivial or sensational inside stories. When the media gradually loses its self-discipline, it becomes a tool for politicians and people with vested interests.

Many believe in the power of the press. This conviction that the media is a powerful tool for swaying voters is what drives some news editors, reporters and call-in show hosts to exaggerate and even make up news stories. The principle of verifying the sources of news has in many cases become nothing but empty talk.

Because of this biased media culture, many have fallen into the typical cycle of political maneuvering. And the result is that the credibility of both the politicians and the media are downgraded. Lee and his talk show are the typical products of the nation's unique and unhealthy politics.

Even the attempts to institutionalize media structure has been tainted by political interference. The establishment of the National Communications Commission as an independent mechanism to examine media operations became an arena for political wrangling last year. The pan-blue camp's nominees secured a majority in the commission, which has sabotaged the credibility of the commission.

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