On Saturday, several groups, including the Association of Taiwan Journalists (ATJ), took to the streets to protest media monopolization and call for more autonomy in the media. The demonstration coincided with the 18th anniversary of the Journalists’ Day march in 1994 in which 2,300 journalists and people working in the media protested in the pouring rain. Saturday’s demonstration brought together more broadcasters, students and civic groups than the 1994 march.
The 1994 demonstration happened after the Independence Post group was taken over — a move which caused Post workers to fear for their editorial autonomy and provoked unions to protest.
This occurred after martial law had been lifted, at a time when unions were quite powerful and news providers were just starting to join forces. Eighteen years later, big business has taken over. If Taiwan wants to have unbiased news from diverse sources all Taiwanese need to get involved.
Few people took much notice of Want Want China Times Group’s bid to acquire some of the cable TV services operated by China News Service when it was broached two years ago. Since then it has become a contentious topic, hotly debated in the legislature and sparking a string of protests because of the possible impact the ensuing media monopolization would have on freedom of expression.
Since the merger process began, there have been partisan news reports and such events make the public wary of concentrating too much power in too few hands.
How many media channels should a society allow one person or one company to own? To what degree should a nation allow its media to self-regulate? What lengths are Taiwanese willing to go to in order to protect our hard-won democracy and freedoms?
Self-regulation is not about the freedom to print whatever stories you want, it is about professional conduct. In news reporting, certain values and practices may change over time, but the most fundamental values — providing balanced reporting and respecting human rights -— are immutable. Mistakes are unavoidable, but self-regulation is about reflecting on the reasons for those mistakes after the event.
Want Want China Times Group published articles about Academia Sinica associate research fellow Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌), accusing him of paying students to attend protests against the merger. One month later, following complaints from the individuals concerned and members of the public, it issued a public apology saying that Huang “had nothing to do with” the event, but defended itself by saying it never fabricated stories.
In 2003, the New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was found to have plagiarized and fabricated facts. The Times conducted an internal investigation, going through Blair’s reports with a fine-tooth comb. Blair was fired, his seniors disciplined and a public apology issued. On May 11 of that year, the Times printed a 7,239-word report, detailing the process and findings of the investigation, saying the affair was “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.”
A similar case happened in Taiwan. In March 2007, cable station TVBS was embroiled in a scandal when it broadcast footage of a gangster in a video later found to have been fabricated by a TVBS reporter. Following an internal investigation into the matter, the National Communications Commission slapped its biggest fine ever on TVBS. The reporter and his superior were fired, the head of the news department and the assignment editor were given demerits and a public apology was issued.