Tue, Nov 21, 2006 - Page 8 News List

The great Taiwanese media failure

By Lu Shih-hsiang 盧世祥

After the investigation into the alleged misuse of the special "state affairs fund" comes to an end, the Taiwanese people should let the courts decide whether or not President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and his wife Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) are guilty as charged.

Everyone talks about the fundamental legal principle that an indictment does not imply guilt, but in Taiwan's highly politicized environment, Chen is facing calls to step down even before he has had a chance to defend himself in court.

Not only has a third recall motion against Chen been filed, the red-clad followers of former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) are getting fresh wind in their sails and even the Taipei Society -- which consists of academics -- jumped on the anti-Chen bandwagon before he had had a chance to respond on TV.

The indictment against Chen's wife is not only a legal issue but also involves moral and political ones.

Regardless of one's point of view, however, each argument must be based on facts and hard evidence. Without them, all the talk, no matter how grand, is but a castle built on air.

Journalists capable of presenting well-balanced coverage of the issue therefore have a decisive role to play.

Media outlets reflecting public opinion and conveying facts to help the public get a clear picture of what is going on are indispensable for the public's ability to make a rational judgment about the political situation.

Unfortunately, Taiwan's media in general have been unable to abide by professional ethics and are -- with a few notable exceptions -- no longer capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the fourth estate.

The survey conducted by the Edelman Asia-Pacific public affairs company three weeks ago showed that Taiwan's media credibility had plunged to a trust rating of just 1 percent.

Taiwan's media has become so unreliable that any hopes that it will fulfill its responsibilities are in vain.

Let us examine the media's performance by how it reflects public opinion.

After Chen's televised address, six major dailies immediately conducted their own public opinion polls. Results released by the United Daily News and the China Times indicated that only 13 percent of respondents believed what Chen had said.

However, not only was the design of these questionnaires problematic, but the sample size used -- from 700 to 900 -- was also inadequate.

This was insufficient to truthfully and effectively reflect general public opinion. What's more, the number of respondents who did not want to participate in the poll were either on the high side -- one third of those contacted by the United Daily refused to respond -- or simply not stated.

These media outlets are so biased that they are often rejected when seeking respondents. When opinion polls are conducted under these conditions, the results become bereft of value.

And yet the polls' results were used as a reflection of public opinion and were even put on front pages.

It is ridiculous to see how politicians and reporters pick whatever figures they need from these polls to show that public opinion supports this, that or the other thing.

In addition to their unreliable opinion polls, media outlets are also becoming increasingly incapable of reporting the truth, as seen during the recent political crisis.

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