One of the negative characteristics of the Taiwanese media is its love of speculation, and especially its penchant for predicting the stock market and staff appointments. As the new government assumed office, the stock market fell for five consecutive days, forcing the media, which had forecast an immediate upswing, to eat their words.
Similarly, while the Cabinet was being formed, the whirlwind predictions of staff appointments made by the media on the strength of hearsay was awe-inspiring. According to statistics from the Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence, false Cabinet appointments occupied about 60 percent of erroneous news in the press in April.
A report conducted by the former publisher of the Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News, Lu I-ming (呂一銘), listed the media’s staff appointments. Minister of education hopefuls included: Wu Ching-chi (吳清基), deputy mayor of Taipei; Lee Chia-tung (李家同), Boyo Foundation chairman and former president of National Chi Nan University; former education minister Kirby Yang (楊朝祥); and Huang Chen-tai (黃鎮台), chairman of the John Tung Foundation. Cheng Jei-cheng (鄭瑞城), former president of National Chengchi University, who was eventually appointed to the post, never made an appearance.
For Council of Cultural Affairs chief the media predicted Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), former director of the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs; Lin Ku-fang (林谷芳), director of Fo Guang University’s Graduate Institute of Art Studies; Stanley Yen (嚴長壽), hotelier; and Lin Hwai-min (林懷民), founder and artistic director of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre — but not the eventual appointee, Huang Pi-twang (黃碧端), former president of Tainan National University of the Arts.
At the same time, Steve Chan (詹啟賢), campaign manager for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Jason Hu (胡志強), mayor of Taichung, Tsai Hsun-hsiung (蔡勳雄), former KMT think tank chief executive officer, Chen Li-wun (陳麗文), KMT Fengbin Township Female Association Chairwoman and KMT legislators Cheng Li-wen (鄭麗文) and Lee Jih-chu (李紀珠) were all media staff candidates — though none made the grade.
At one point, a newspaper even announced a so-called “list of eight female Cabinet ministers,” though only former KMT legislator Chang Jen-hsiang (章仁香) received a post, as minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples.
Nor is it the first time the media has taken pot shots at Cabinet appointments. In 2004, speculation featured media-favorite Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), former DPP secretary-general, who received five media nominations for posts, including his final assignment as minister of the Government Information Office. The media’s nomination for minister of the National Youth Commission had as many as seven competitors — although it excluded Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君), who was eventually appointed.
The tendency to report hearsay in an attempt to be the first to break the news isn’t the only problem. Some media outlets purposefully cause confusion and spread rumors in the hope that competitors will suffer from the exposure. Those in power also sometimes send up feelers to gauge public reaction. Confronted with uncertain information, the media should cautiously verify facts and hold themselves to simply admitting their ignorance if that is the case. Only then would they be fulfilling their professional responsibility of providing accurate news, and avoid being utilized by other parties.
Yet, for many years, and with very few exceptions, the Taiwanese media have focused only on speed when it comes to covering staff appointments, hoping to hit the mark with the shotgun approach. Worse, some purposefully try to generate support for certain individuals.
Naturally, the result of this cursory treatment of staff appointment news stories, with much wishful thinking and no factual foundation, eventually results in multiple errors and the lowering of credibility.
Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is played out time and time again, exposing the serious problem of the Taiwanese media’s professional standards and sophistication. Not following standard protocol in reporting, buying rumors wholesale and replacing evidence with speculation all increase the amount of erroneous media-generated staff appointments.
Although public confidence in the media is damaged through erroneous reporting of staff appointments, reporters remain unperturbed. Editors remain secure in their posts, so the repeated occurrence of errors does not lead to reform. Instead, every Cabinet reshuffle leads to another bout of blunders.
If only one company or a small number of media outlets were in the habit of speculation, then it would not be a source of concern. But print and digital media alike take blind guesses at staff appointments, collectively disregarding journalistic ethics and credibility and behaving as though there’s nothing to lose. And if everyone’s playing the same game, perhaps there isn’t.
Lu Shih-hsiang is an adviser to the Taipei Times and CEO of the Foundation for the Advancement of Media Excellence.
Translated by Angela Hong
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