Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Taiwanese media, too, need to take a step back

By Ku Chung-hwa 顧忠華

The electorate has spoken and the results of the elections held over the weekend are clear: voters' wisdom tells them that at this stage "maintaining the status quo" is the best option for Taiwanese politics. People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) dropped another bombshell while the votes were still being counted when he announced that he would be retiring from politics.

This could spell the rapid demise of the PFP and symbolize the fortification of a two-party structure. The political implications of this battle clearly surpass just who the local leaders are and will have far-reaching consequences for future political development.

One question worth pursuing is the role that the media plays in Taiwan's democracy.

We all know that Taiwan's democratization accompanied the liberalization and commercialization of the media. At the beginning, everyone hoped that the media would enter into an era of normal competition and bid farewell to the role they played under the authoritarian system, when they were merely mouthpieces for the ruling elite's propaganda.

People hoped the media would become a real "fourth estate," establish a firm foundation for the public sector and honestly reflect public opinion.

However, things have not turned out as expected. On the one hand, Taiwan's media environment has certainly advanced by leaps and bounds. All kinds of new broadcasting technology -- such as cable TV, the Internet and digital information -- have empowered the media with an unprecedented reach, allowing them to instantaneously report news happening in all corners of the globe.

But the small nation of Taiwan has suddenly been overrun with the highest concentration of satellite news gathering trucks in the world, symbolizing that media competition has gone beyond white hot and has even become detrimental.

What's worse, certain media outlets have used talking heads as a tool for political manipulation. This is a complete departure from the standard set by media professionalism and brings down the quality of our democracy.

Taiwan was part of the world's "third wave" of democratization, but various systems essential to democracy still remain unfinished.

With the Constitution yet to be rewritten, our political culture not fully mature and political opposition growing more vehement, the media should bear a greater responsibility for educating people and making an example of themselves to help realize a civil society.

Unfortunately, some of the media just seem bent on their ratings, and even intentionally cater to the biases of extremists. They have ignored the sacred duty to spread the truth and encourage rational discussion and have instead become pawns of self-interested politicians in their proxy wars.

Taiwan's democracy has been afflicted by the "curse of the media," including its efforts to encourage protesters to force national leaders out of office. In the end, this resort to populism backfired, leading to aversion.

The election results are proof of this. This indicates that voters aren't willing to play along with the media's tricks, choosing instead to assert their will through their political choices, thereby strengthening Taiwan's democracy.

Some pundits had said that the elections would be a "vote of confidence" in the president; instead, it is media organizations that have received a vote of no confidence.

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