Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Spare the public a diary on Chao

While Chao Chien-ming's (趙建銘) alleged involvement in a string of scandals and his reportedly snotty behavior as the president's son-in-law may be despicable, the herd mentality of the TV news crews that follow his every step, mobbing and mocking him at every opportunity, is equally repulsive.

From the moment Chao was released on Monday night on bail of NT$10 million (US$307,000) following 47 days of detention on suspicion of insider trading, he was immediately surrounded by reporters, photographers and camera crews, who, in their usual tradition, pushed and shoved their way to the front, sticking microphones into their prey's face. They pursued him until he found refuge at the National Taiwan University Hospital where he used to work as an orthopedist.

While Chao's alleged misconduct deserves no sympathy, the way camera crews and reporters have hunted him down like a pack of wolves has reinforced the negative image of the local TV news media in the public's mind.

Just as the TV crews clamor for their "right to interview," Chao -- and anyone for that matter -- also enjoys the "right not to be speak."

Freedom of the press should be upheld and the reporters probably believe they are merely doing their job by catering to the public's insatiable curiosity to know what is happening.

But there is a fine line between freedom of the press and harassing and infringing on a person's right to privacy.

Remember how the TV stations' satellite news-gathering vehicles dutifully stood near the residence of Lee Tai-an (李泰安), a suspect in a train derailment case, and broadcast around-the-clock coverage of Lee and his family for months? The absurdity didn't come to an end until Lee was detained and placed under police custody.

That same incident was repeated overseas -- in the US state of Maryland, where the first family's doctor, Huang Fan-yen (黃芳彥), a potential witness in the investigation into the Sogo voucher scandal, was staying at the house of a friend earlier this month.

Until the court makes its ruling on the case against Chao, whose trial is scheduled to start on July 28, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the public will be treated to a 24-hour show called "The Diary of Chao." The media will most likely camp outside Chao's residence, eager to pry into every move he makes -- all under the pretense of news coverage.

The job of journalists, be it as a reporter working for the print media, TV or radio, is to report an event. Yet how often has one heard a voice-over on a TV news clip making subjective comments about the persons concerned? How often has one seen TV news crews turn supposedly unbiased coverage into speculation and hearsay?

Before checking whether Chao had really gone to a motel for a shower before heading home after his release, a number of TV news outlets rushed to the alleged motel, giving viewers a detailed report on the set-up of the motel room and bathroom equipment. Chao, however, denied going to the motel when asked by the president a couple of days later.

Whether or not Chao really went to the motel is beside the point. The reporter's job is to give viewers the facts, not to create stories.

One hopes media outlets will start taking their news coverage more seriously and remember their public responsibility, before viewers, fed up with speculative stories masquerading as news, switch channels or simply turn off their TVs.

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