The alleged beating of a taxi driver earlier this month by a Japanese friend of local singer and actress Makiyo stunned society, sending local press and media outlets — eager to pass judgement and pronounce guilt — into overdrive.
Makiyo, who is of Taiwanese and Japanese descent, and her friend, Takateru Tomoyori, allegedly kicked and beat the taxi driver, surnamed Lin (林), after a quarrel over Tomoyori’s refusal to fasten his seatbelt on Feb. 2. The incident, revealed days later via footage from a dashboard camera provided by another taxi driver, sparked public outrage.
While the media’s interest in celebrities is certainly not new, and criminal cases involving well-known people can easily unleash a media frenzy, the sector needs to be mindful of providing balanced information and careful analyses, not off-the-cuff comments and sensational perspectives.
In the case of Makiyo, the alleged incident led the media to focus on her outings to nightclubs and any “unsavory” habits. The entertainer appears to have lost many fans, with some expressing themselves on social networking sites and online forums. An anti-Makiyo Facebook page has attracted almost 400,000 adherents so far.
Local news networks and talk shows have added fuel to the fire, inciting public rage with rumors about the case and closely scrutinizing Makiyo’s background and that of her friends.
The Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office on Friday wrapped up its investigation into the case and charged Makiyo and Tomoyori with assault and asked for four and six years imprisonment respectively.
However, the ruling did not put an end to the coverage of the case. Rather, encouraged by high ratings, news networks sought to dig deeper and go wilder. ETTV’s talk show This Is It last week invited guests to explain in detail how the driver had been beaten and simulated the postures.
Another talk show on TVBS, 2100 Talk Show invited Tomoyori to attend on Friday night, with host Lee Tao (李濤) and guests taking turns to play judge and grill him on the case.
The trial by media and the portrait of Makiyo and Tomoyori as public enemies has done little to inform the public or to lead to a rational discussion of the issues behind the case.
Despite the 24-hour news coverage, there was little in-depth or follow-up discussion on related issues, such as the new legislation that requires car passengers in the rear seats to fasten their seatbelts and what taxi drivers can do if passengers refuse to obey the law.
The only positive impact from the media was probably that the video footage obtained exclusively by ETTV revealed flaws in the handling of the video evidence by the police. It was not until the prosecutors saw the footage on the news and demanded the video from the police, that the police finally presented them with the critical evidence.
The media plays a crucial role in informing the public and shaping public opinion in a society where the public is flooded with information.
The press and news networks should exercise self-discipline when reporting on celebrities, as they should in any high-profile case, regardless of whether the report is social, political or otherwise. Moreover, network ratings and public interest do not justify the media turning the proceedings into a circus.
Makiyo and Tomoyori have now admitted attacking the driver and the court will decide the price they should pay for their acts. Journalists should be careful not to play judge when covering the case, and more importantly, ensure that they still focus attention on important issues both at home and abroad.