While people have been shocked by two recent gruesome crimes — one a double homicide involving body dumping and one involving decapitation — the coverage by some television news channels of the stories has, regrettably, also left a large number of viewers shaking their heads in disbelief.
It may be that these channels simply wanted to inform their viewers by having talk show hosts and guest commentators conduct simulations near the crime scenes — especially the double homicide in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Bali District (八里) — but their exaggerated tone and over-the-top speculation about how the murders were carried out could only have served to rile viewers, not inform them.
The apparently detailed portrayals have led to valid concerns about whether judiciary personnel have jeopardized the investigations by leaking information to the media, but many cannot help but wonder whether these news channels really think that viewers watching at breakfast, lunch and dinner time need to hear full-blown accounts of the suspects’ and the victims’ childhoods, their alleged likes and dislikes, and speculation about how the crimes were committed and how the victims died?
As if the reputation of TV news channels was not bad enough, a television talk show that on Thursday last week conducted a controversial simulation of the double homicide celebrated its high ratings with cake and champagne. One wonders whether it even occurred to the show’s crew and on-camera personnel for even a nano-second that they were actually “celebrating” the deaths of two people.
Many will remember how TV news crews and their satellite news-gathering vehicles camped out for months in 2006 near the residence of Lee Tai-an (李泰安), a suspect in a train derailment case, so they could broadcast around-the-clock coverage of Lee and his family. Almost a decade before, in 1997, TV news crews had outraged many in the nation with their exploitative coverage of the months-long manhunt for the alleged kidnappers and murderers of TV entertainer Pai Ping-ping’s (白冰冰) 17-year-old daughter Pai Hsiao-yen (白曉燕) — Chen Chin-hsing (陳進興), Lin Chun-sheng (林春生) and Kao Tien-min (高天民) — especially Chen’s final stand as a fugitive, taking the family of then-South African defense attache Colonel McGill Alexander hostage for 24 hours.
TV stations competed to get through for telephone interviews with Chen even as police were trying to negotiate an end to the standoff with him.
Years later, there still appears to be no end to the absurdity that news channels will go to in pursuit of ratings.
While some may argue that it is up to viewers to choose the channels they want to watch, a responsible news outlet should know that it has a social responsibility to live up to, even as it pursues ratings.
Freedom of the press should be upheld and the collective hard work of television news crews should not be overlooked, but there is a world of difference between keeping the public informed and bombarding viewers with gossip, speculation and hearsay masquerading as facts and news. Saying that they are merely doing their jobs by catering to the public’s curiosity is no excuse for these channels’ ill-informed and exploitative stories.
For some time now television news stations, with their overly sensationalized coverage, have been held by the pubic as one of the major culprits responsible for the nation’s increasing social maladies. Hopefully the news channels, rather than working to reinforce their negative public image, will strive to take the news more seriously and win back the respect the fourth estate deserves.