Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Balancing reporting and privacy

By Hung Chen-ling 洪貞玲

TV AUDIENCES WERE recently treated to the spectacle of reporters from various news media competing to report on the movements of Chen Hsing-yu (陳幸妤), daughter of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), as they followed her around New York, where she went to take a dentistry exam. The incident gave rise to an unusual situation in which two satellite TV stations took each other to task.

Meanwhile, the National Communications Commission (NCC) made public a set of proposed amendments to the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法), exposing disagreements among NCC members in the process. While internal strife in the former first family and the NCC may have a certain entertainment value, let us not overlook the significance of the two incidents as pointers for achieving more orderly standards in the media.

The rights of every individual to privacy and to uphold his or her good reputation are protected by the Constitution. When these rights are violated, people can take legal action to set things right. As the daughter of a political figure, Chen Hsing-yu finds it hard to live in peace. Her privacy has been invaded again and again, and her words and actions are discussed in public. Considering the storm raging over corruption charges against her father, the media were only doing their job of informing the public by reporting on her activities overseas.

Chen Hsing-yu will have to put up with such intrusions, annoying as they may be. At the same time, however, the media should try to strike a balance between freedom of reporting and the rights of individuals. When gathering news, they should know where to draw the line between what is reasonable and what is not. For example, they can hardly be faulted for filming public figures on the street, but it would be both unacceptable and illegal for them to sneak into their homes under false pretenses or disturb their privacy in the middle of the night.

Of course, the law cannot be expected to cover each and every possible infringement the media may make on people’s rights, or to set punishments for every such action. Common standards for what is and is not acceptable in newsgathering must therefore be decided through ongoing introspection on the part of the media. In TVBS and CTITV’s recent bout of criticisms of each other’s reporters, it is hard to say precisely who is right and who is wrong. Such exercises in mutual criticism are, however, to be encouraged, and we hope to see more of them. If news media can apply high standards in assessing their rivals, and then apply the same high standards to themselves, it can only be good for a democratic society.

If, on the other hand, our media fail to examine their own conduct, what can the rest of us do about it? With so many channels competing for business, Taiwan’s news media seem to be going from bad to worse. Widespread discontent with this trend is the main reason why the NCC is now proposing revisions to the Satellite Broadcasting Act. The draft proposals include imposing fines when news media make false reports after failing to check facts, and banning product placement in news and children’s programs. The NCC declared that “in reviewing policy, the second NCC committee’s purpose will, as before, be to overcome bias in the market. In doing so, it will give considerable weight to the criteria of social and cultural values.”

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