Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Media toss out journalistic ethics

By Lu I-ming 呂一銘

Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration as president on May 20 marked the return to power of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after eight years of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rule and a watershed for media in Taiwan.

Over the past few months, the media have been transformed from tools to weapons. The media arena has become a new battlefield of political struggle. The professionalism and ethics that were once considered all-important to reporting have become vague and confused and the media have lost sight of their role as instruments of public service.

Furthermore, as Taiwan and China lift restrictions on each other’s media, there has now arisen in Taiwan a three-way competition between blue, green and red (pro-China) media.

As politics take over, the media no longer serve their role in upholding democracy, fairness, justice and human rights. Instead of pluralism and tolerance, they encourage blind faith and self-deception. That is the real tragedy.

Around the time when martial law was lifted in Taiwan in 1987, the media were an important force in promoting democracy.

By the time of the first transfer of political power — from the KMT to the DPP in 2000 — calls for the KMT, the government and the armed forces to withdraw from the media and for the creation of public television were widespread. Unfortunately, the changes were only partial, which is why we are seeing problems today.

When former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was re-elected in 2004, the KMT and allied parties claimed the vote had been swayed by the two bullets fired in an apparent assassination attempt against Chen and his vice president, Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).

Suspecting the attack to be a set-up, the KMT and its allies refused to accept the result of the election, sparking a long period of political unrest. The standoff was reflected in the media, which departed from professional neutrality in news reporting and took sides in the conflict.

Later, Chen’s government was implicated in a number of alleged corruption cases, including accusations that Chen had misused his “special affairs fund.” Since then, the media have had a field day publishing “leaks” and revealing “facts,” many of which proved to be unfounded.

With this trend of irresponsible reporting, the media have almost completely lost sight of journalistic ethics. Instead of clarifying issues, they muddy the waters, provoking increasing public discontent and criticism.

With its return to the Presidential Office, the KMT now has control of all branches of the central government and most local governments too, in effect creating a new one-party state that is as bad as, if not worse than, the old one.

The KMT and the government are taking control of national radio, the Public Television Service and the Central News Agency. At the same time, the government has given a green light for Chinese state-run and party-run media to set up offices in Taiwan.

Over the past six months, the red and blue media have fallen over themselves to join the chorus of praise on everything related to cross-strait relations, including the meetings and forums held by the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party, the meeting between the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS); the Beijing Olympics; and the government’s policies on a diplomatic truce, dovish defense and deregulation of cross-strait transport.

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