Thu, Jan 23, 2014 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Media’s ‘culture of exposure’

The news about Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih’s (葉匡時) alleged lavish birthday banquet is fading. Both the Presidential Office and the Cabinet seem to have decided that although Yeh may have been a bit careless about choosing his friends and where he eats, it was not a serious mistake, and that he should be a bit more frugal in future and eat boxed lunches a bit more often. The worst of the storm may have blown over, but Yeh is not likely to forget the episode any time soon.

This round of gossip started when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元) posted a comment online saying that Yeh was attending a “lavish banquet” given by Senao International Co chairman Paul Lin (林保雍) to celebrate Yeh’s birthday at a “mysterious meeting place” in Waishuangxi north of Taipei.

Tsai posted a second post revealing that “the birthday party was not held at the place where it was said to be [but] at a storage area containing valuable national treasures known as ‘the little Palace Museum.’”

A third post said that Yeh was “singing love songs together with a beautiful and sexy female singer” at the banquet.

Taiwan’s media went crazy over the gossip, which had the right ingredients — power, treasures, lavish banquets and beautiful women — while commentators could not stop discussing the story. However, in the end, the furor seems to have been more hot air than cold facts.

As the media discovered a few days later, this is closer to what happened: Yeh took his wife, children and a few friends out hiking in the mountains.

When they were finished, they went to a restaurant in a house of rickety corrugated steel sheeting for some food, where the minister celebrated his birthday by inviting a female singer to sing along with the karaoke to elevate the atmosphere. When they were finished eating, they went to an art exhibition at Ever Rich DFS Corp’s (昇恆昌) headquarters in Neihu and after that, everyone went home.

If media outlets had sent reporters to the “lavish dinner,” they would have found that the “mysterious meeting place” was nothing but a house with corrugated steel sheeting, and that the “lavish dinner” consisted of pork noodles and vegetables. That would have been a warning sign to anyone who is careful about handling “revelations.”

The “little Palace Museum” mentioned in the second post was nothing more than an art exhibition at Ever Rich DFS Corp’s headquarters, and that should have made the media doubt the source’s credibility.

The “beautiful and sexy singer” in the third posting was in fact a karaoke singer over the age of 50, and that would have made the media criticize the source for being unscrupulous and spiteful.

The whole episode gained Tsai a lot of air time and could be helpful in his election campaign for the Taipei mayoral seat.

The person who provided Tsai with the information achieved their goal of attacking Yeh, Chunghwa Telecom and Senao. Tsai and his source’s actions are questionable.

However, some greenhorn reporters may not have understood that they should check the facts. Some media managers may have thought that it was a win-win situation: Although Tsai kept portioning his revelations and stringing the media along for several days, his revelations gave them material, and improved viewer ratings and readership numbers.

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