Wed, Jan 12, 2011 - Page 8 News List

No rest till media reform complete

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏

On Jan. 3, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), on the instruction of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), announced that “the government shall not buy news, and advertorials embedded in programming should be properly labeled.”

Then, as a formal response to a statement by a group of academics protesting against embedded government advertorials in the media, the Government Information Office issued a document listing issues that government agencies should pay attention to when planning the dissemination of their policies.

If the government took the demands for media reform coming from various groups seriously and implemented this policy, it would be worth a notation in the annals of the nation’s media reform.

However, if we were to follow the dictum of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), the founder of the Republic of China (ROC), that people should neither rest nor waver until the revolution is successfully realized, the changes would only be one small step on the road toward media reform.

Since only time will tell if those reforms will really be implemented, it is safe to say that there is still a long way to go before Taiwanese media have been reformed.

In the late 1980s, about at the time martial law was lifted, calls for media reform came mainly from the Taipei Society, which pushed for less involvement in the media by political parties, the military and the government. The Taipei Society was joined by the Alliance for the Democratization of Terrestrial TV in the late 1990s, and in 2003 the legislature responded by passing legislation stipulating that those three groups — political parties, the military and the government — must withdraw from all media ownership.

Another media reform campaign that began at about the same time was the campaign to demand the establishment of public television.

Although this was started in the 1970s — prior to the lifting of martial law and before the demand for the withdrawal of the political parties, the military and the government from media ownership — the public didn’t really get behind the campaign until the 1980s. Legislation was finally passed in 1997, a year before public television was established and before the completion of the legislation banning the three aforementioned groups from media ownership.

Over the past decade, the media have gone from being the mouthpiece of the sole political party — used to maintain ideological control during the Martial Law era by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — to a medium for public entertainment. Having jumped into bed with the market economy, the media have slipped steadily downhill, to the point where they have become one of the three main sources of the chaos now seen in country.

This decline is why there are so many calls for media reform. The government’s embedded advertorials, aimed at promoting its policies, comprise only one of the problems and it was not until late last year that 100 media academics finally called on the government to deal with the problem. The catalyst was the resignation of veteran China Times reporter Huang Je-bing (黃哲斌), whose resignation letter drew attention to this growing practice.

However, does that really solve the problems with the media? No, there is still a very long way to go.

Clear rules that government agencies will no longer buy news and transparency regarding the identity of the organization paying for embedded advertorials is just the beginning.

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