“Knowing when not to write an article is part of the journalist’s job.” So wrote the renowned Japanese commentator Saburo Kawamoto in his autobiographical novel My Back Page: A Story of Life in the 1960s.
People who work in the media sector are asked to make all kinds of choices, and the conflicts and social responsibility integral to each decision form one aspect of what is taught in media studies classes.
The controversy over the media acquisition that has had center stage in Taiwan since the summer has meant that many journalists have been forced to put their name on reports that are less than faithful to the facts.
Not only have they been denied the luxury of being able to decline to write articles, they are being obliged to write pieces which they do not agree with under titles they do not support.
Their boss, intent on expanding his media empire, has a management style that has no time for professional autonomy.
As media studies educators, we are profoundly troubled by what is happening, perhaps more so than academics in any other field. If a corporate group is allowed to monopolize the press, it will be the death knell of the professional ethics of people working in the broadcasting industry. And if professional ethics are obliterated, there is no point in teaching media studies.
For this reason, we decided to participate in a joint program-format public debate last week, attended by the staff of media studies departments from several universities throughout the nation, on the subject of opposing the corporate monopolization of the media and the need for media reform.
Our recommendation was that, in order to prevent the monopolization of the nation’s news media by corporate groups, the Fair Trade Commission has to reject the Next Media acquisition proposal, and the National Communications Commission (NCC) should draw up a series of regulations to prevent the emergence of a media monopoly.
At the same time, this should be used as an opportunity for the state to introduce media reforms.
First, the NCC and the Ministry of Culture should devise a viable policy to encourage the expansion of the media, to ensure diversity of content.
Second, they should establish a new diversity fund, to give a voice to local and non-profit, non-commercially-run media, which can act as a counterbalance to the monolithic commercially-run media organizations.
Third, the NCC should provide, together with labor bodies and backed up by legislation, assistance for news worker collectives to ensure them a degree of autonomy.
This would involve media unions signing understandings and drawing up agreements with media proprietors, which would guarantee news workers’ labor rights and autonomy and counterbalance commercial interests within the media.
Media studies students desire to have a favorable working environment in which to pursue their vocation, but the benefits of such reforms would extend further as they are also essential for the broadcasting rights of the public. Establishing internal and external controls and counterbalances for commercially-run media organizations is the starting point for reforming the media and creating diverse media content.
Jian Miao-ju and Chad Liu are associate professors in the Department of Communications at National Chung Cheng University; Wang Wei-ching is an assistant professor at the National Taiwan Normal University Graduate Institute of Mass Communication and a member of the Campaign for Media Reform.