Sat, Apr 07, 2007 - Page 8 News List

News ethics is not just an issue of education

By Lillian Wang 王泰俐

A reader recently wrote to the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) pointing out that many of the media professionals involved in the TVBS scandal came from National Chengchi University's College of Communications, and that the broadcasting education system must accept responsibility for this failure.

As a teacher at the college, I teach a TV news curriculum and have done research in related areas for many years. Immediately after TVBS' violation of news ethics emerged, I appeared on a television program and publicly denounced the station's poor news management prior to the incident, as well as upper-level management's subsequent attempts to shirk responsibility. I also said, however, that I was willing to accept harsh criticism from the public on the failings of journalism education.

This incident has certainly been a major blow to journalism education. In addition to recording in detail the development of the whole affair and making audio-visual materials to give students an opportunity to learn from it in class, I will also research these issues and use every opportunity to examine and criticize journalism education.

However, I also feel it is my duty to point out the harmful disconnect that has existed for some time between journalism education and the actual experience of media workers. Educators may talk about media ethics and media laws in the classroom all they like, but once students step into the brutally competitive world of the commercial media, often the first thing their boss says to them is: "Beginning today, the first thing you need to do is forget everything your teachers taught you in class."

How many students have felt this enormous disparity between their education and actual work? How many have felt dejected and disillusioned and been unwilling to work in the media, even after studying in a communications department?

Last year's school news award went to a group of students for a report entitled "The study and art of journalism education" that attacked school curricula for overemphasizing media ethics and ignoring the harsh realities of everyday work in that environment. They said that this lack of preparation would deal a severe psychological blow once people entered the field, leading some to quickly begin considering switching professions. This could partly explain why more than half of television news reporters today did not graduate from a communications department.

So is dialogue between journalism education and actual work possible? During the license renewal period for satellite channels two years ago, the review committee tacked on a resolution demanding that TV stations create a "news self-discipline program," and that this would be an important factor when the committee reviewed the licence renewal.

But as things stand, not one channel has taken the criticisms and suggestions put forward by academics participating in such programs and given them to the Government Information Office to be incorporated into news coverage standards. How many communications academics are now unwilling to participate in these pilot programs because of this?

It will require a concerted effort from the educational world and the commercial world of journalism to bridge the gap between the two. Communications educators must re-examine deficiencies in the teaching of journalistic ethics. But if that isn't accompanied by a strong ethical push by media companies, how can educators expose these blind spots and then inspire a passion in students to work in journalism?

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