Fri, Aug 04, 2006 - Page 8 News List

'TV Monster' a media revelation

By Jason Liu 劉進興

Public Television Service's (PTS) airing of a documentary titled TV Monster (有怪獸) reveals the truth about two issues: inflated vote counts in presidential elections and placement marketing. The documentary can be viewed as a starting point for self- criticism in the media.

During the vote count in the 2000 presidential election, local TV stations tried to outdo each other in reporting ballot figures. All these figures were fabricated, however.

When it came to the 2004 presidential election, the media were even more unrestrained in their inflated reports of the vote count. Other than PTS and Chinese Television Company (CTV), every TV station was involved in this type of reporting. Some stations went completely overboard, absurdly inflating the vote count to numbers that exceeded the final tally.

Even worse, these media outlets allowed their subjective views to influence the procedure, which created a false impression that the pan-blue ticket with presidential candidate Lien Chan (連戰) and vice presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜) was leading throughout the vote count.

In reality, based on the Central Election Commission's tallies, the incumbents, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), never dropped out of the lead.

In the end, the reported figures exceeded the total number of ballots cast, and these TV stations had no choice but to correct their figures, forcing anchorpersons to say that there had been "a sudden change in the election results" to cover up their errors. Some people then charged that the "sudden change" was a result of vote rigging. With their inflated vote count reports, these TV stations must shoulder a great deal of the responsibility for the unrest among pan-blue supporters that followed.

TV Monster gives a vivid account of these media manuevers. Communications and broadcasting teachers should write an open letter demanding that anchorpersons involved in the inflated voting reports resign collectively.

They should also play this documentary in class as a warning to future journalists and anchorpersons so that they will not repeat the same kind of shameful mistake.

The exposure of the inflated vote count reports is good, as TV stations would not dare repeat such exaggerated reporting.

Nevertheless, false news reports are still rampant, mainly in the form of placement marketing.

A TV anchorman in TV Monster said that on average, there are five pieces of placement news in every two hours of news broadcast.

A former reporter at the Chinese-language China Times also said that newspapers sold news coverage in the form of interviews. We have to be grateful that there still are reporters with a conscience. They might have made similar mistakes in the past, but at least they are willing to correct past errors by bearing testimony in the documentary, which shows that there is still a ray of hope for media self-discipline.

Unfortunately, China Times' president, Huang Chao-sung (黃肇松), pointed at the retired journalist in the film, asking, "Didn't you also write placement marketing news?" In plain language, Huang was saying that "We're all part of the media conspiracy, so we shouldn't expose each other."

Placement marketing must be thoroughly eradicated. Because the government is the largest buyer of such marketing, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) should declare that government orders should be disseminated through advertising and not through placement marketing. By doing so, Su would not only win public praise but also make a great contribution to media reform and democracy.

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