The recent negative attention surrounding Next Media’s News-in-Motion died down more quickly than expected, as the company, the Taipei City Government and protest groups were satisfied with how the issue was resolved. The conflict was a contest between many parties, including many media outlets. In the end, the incident was solved to everyone’s satisfaction, which is very rare indeed.
However, the incident raised several issues that we have to deal with to improve the local media environment.
From a legal standpoint, we must ask whether using classifications to indicate that content may be unsuitable for certain viewers is the best way to deal with every kind of news content. Is it appropriate to prohibit people from subscribing to a certain media outlet or advocate blocking links to certain media sites if public or government institutions deem their content to be inappropriate?
While these methods do not harm press freedom, they do affect readers or viewers of such media.
Also, while the government’s excuse of “I am not allowing you to view this for your own good” may make media outlets change their practices temporarily, do we want this kind of conservative thinking in the long term?
On the other hand, the commercial competition in the media market has turned this issue into something more than a debate about press freedom. To use an expression commonly seen in the Chinese-language Apple Daily, the media has been “played to death.” This is how press freedom has been “played to death” by commercialization: Because people enjoy sensational news reports, media outlets do their best to cater to the tastes of their audience. This has caused news reporting to become increasingly lowbrow.
However, as soon as anyone demands that controls over news be enforced, there is danger of restricting press freedom. This means that anyone calling for self restraint or control of news content may be infringing on press freedom, and they may be branded conservatives.
So, in today’s commercialized media world we still advocate press freedom, but apart from venting our anger on bulletin board services or personal Web pages, what else can we do when the content of news is inappropriate?
First, we should get rid of the misconception that commercialization represents the public. Commercialization does not equate representation of public opinion and interests. Media commercialization represents the opinions and interests of media moguls.
When commercial media outlets start making noise about how they are reporting news from the perspective of the common people and claiming that they are giving people the news they want, they are doing the exact opposite. We can see this in how they go to all lengths in their satirical and mocking social news reporting.
If they really wanted to report news from the perspective of the public, how could they so happily feed off victims and other unfortunate involved parties, especially stories that affect the poor or the disadvantaged? Each picture of a bloody corpse is that of a victim of a crime or accident, and each family where incest has occurred has its own heartbreaking story. Every elderly person, woman or child who has been a victim of domestic violence should be treated with dignity and be given his or her right to privacy.
If commercial media outlets were really concerned about the public, how could they capitalize on people’s sufferings the way they do?
In the face of commercialization, conservatives demand more media controls, while the middle class advocate mainstream moral ethics. However, restrictions and moral ethics are not the mainbases for media reform.
Journalistic ethics has never been a simple opposition between the conservative middle class and mass commercialization. We should take a more active approach to discussing the public and class issues that appear time and time again in social news reporting. We should also angrily protest against and resist the commercialization that takes place in the name of freedom.
We really need to create a new theory of media reform. I say this because demanding journalistic ethics and dignity is not a conservative idea, but a progressive one. As for those commercial media outlets that only want to make money despite pledging to place the public first, all I can say is that they are even more hypocritical and conservative than any of the stories they have ever reported.
Ko Yu-fen is an associate professor of journalism at Cheng Chi University.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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