Thu, Aug 24, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Turning off the press

Several respected figures such as choreographer Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), National Chi Nan University Professor Li Chia-tung (李家同) and the poet Hsi Mu-jung (席慕蓉) recently joined a call for the public to turn off their TVs and computers and enjoy at least an hour a day of peace and reflection without the noise of news reports.

The truth is that all major media outlets have become so deeply involved in the domestic political wrangling that their objectivity is frequently open to question. And to promote their political agenda, some have resorted to fabricating or running unverified stories as front-page news or broadcasting hearsay.

Media outlets are entitled to their own political stance -- as long as they are kept within the editorial and opinion pages, and not masquerading as fact-based, objective news articles.

A glance at a few recent examples shows just how much the local media need to change their work ethics before any more damage is done to the country's fourth estate.

The Chinese-language United Daily News on Aug. 18 ran a front-page story alleging that the president's son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming (趙建銘), who has been indicted in a high-profile insider-trading case, had sold a 13-carat diamond to a Hong Kong jewelry house.

The report, quoting anonymous sources in the jewelry industry, went on to claim that after being released on bail last month, Chao had asked a friend to sell the diamond at a lower price, implying that Chao meant to flee the country.

Threatened with a libel suit by Chao, the paper later issued an apology for failing to verify the facts before running the story.

Something similar also happened not long ago when the Chinese-language China Times published a front-page story alleging that Freddy Lim (林昶佐), frontman of the metal band Chthonic (閃靈樂團) and known for his pro-independence stance, had joined the call asking President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to step down. The night before publication, Lim had already denied this, later adding the reporter never called him.

How do these incidents compare with how the international press operates?

Consider Reuters news agency's decision to fire a freelance photographer when it discovered that one of the photographs he took in Beirut had been manipulated using Photoshop software to show more and darker smoke rising from buildings in the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike.

Or, veteran newsman Dan Rather's decision to quit as anchor of CBS Evening News after coming under fire for a contentious and disputed report about US President George W. Bush's military service.

Irresponsible reporting not only misleads the public but also harms those in the media who take their jobs seriously and who are concerned about the image and reputation of the country's press.

In the end it's the public that suffers. Pity the readers and viewers who let their blood pressure rise over a fabricated story.

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