The local media has paid a great deal of attention to Taiwan's improved ranking in the recent 2006 Worldwide Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday. The index ranked Taiwan 43rd this year, up from 51st last year, whereas Japan was ranked No. 51 and the US 53rd.
However, the results of another study touching on the media industry seem to have been largely ignored by local media.
On Tuesday, Edelman, an international public relations firm, held a forum discussing its "Asia-Pacific Stakeholder Study" that examined 10 markets in the region, including Taiwan.
The study looked at seven groups of "stakeholders," including employees, the government, institutional investors, media, NGOs, upscale consumers and senior business executives.
Edelman said that the responses it received showed Taiwanese don't trust the media. A mere 1 percent of respondents view the media as a trusted information source.
Edelman also said that respondents trusted the local media less than foreign media outlets, online media or even bloggers.
In comparison, Indian stakeholders placed the highest trust in their media, with 49 percent saying they viewed their country's media as the most trusted source for information -- a higher percentage than that for the government or NGOs.
The results from the two separate studies suggest that even as Taiwan's press freedom is rising, the media's credibility has hit an all-time low.
Nonetheless, the result of the Edelman study should serve as a warning to the nation's media -- that is, if any of its members still care to engage in introspection.
It seems, regrettably, that the liberalization of the media has given birth to intense ideological and political competition which, as a result, has lowered the quality and credibility of the industry.
The media, which is supposed to play the role of the "Fourth Estate," often points to governmental misdeeds and corruption with an air of righteousness and moral superiority.
Indeed, when it acts in an unbiased manner, media can be powerful. However, in many cases, the nation's media outlets abuse this power in order to further political goals.
The media cannot credibly help to uphold justice, offer a voice for the powerless and hold the government accountable when it suffers from such low credibility and fails to act in a responsible, unbiased manner.
Readers in Taiwan often find themselves reading stories that have been labeled as "exclusives" or "scoops," only to discover that the contents consist of unverified "facts," hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations.
The nation's media sources, broadcast and print alike, are coming under fire from critics for their lack of professionalism and their over-emphasis on trivial, sensational and "exclusive" stories.
It's time that the media takes a long, hard look at itself, searches its heart and starts to live up to its social responsibilities.
Sooner rather then later, the media industry needs to wake up and begin to earn back the nation's trust by working for the betterment of society and advancing the interests of the public, rather than the interests of politicians and political parties.