During the protests against the cross-strait service trade agreement, many of my students and friends have obtained most of their information from independent media or social media Web sites. Many students feel that reporting in the mainstream media, such as newspapers and TV stations, is biased and one-sided, and might just as well be ignored. Anyone who visited the protest site in front of the legislature could see signs reading “oppose defamation by the media” and “the TV deceives my parents.”
Excessive protest, such as verbal abuse and violence directed at reporters by a minority is unacceptable, but disgust with media because they are biased is natural. The most creative and appropriate response to the problem that I have encountered were the sticky notes pasted on the satellite uplink trucks from two of the TV news stations reporting on the protests.
The notes were of course filled with complaints against the two news stations. If there is such a thing as karma, then the sticky note protest is precisely what the mainstream media had coming to them, because some of them have been very busy putting labels on people lately.
The most obvious example is the way media outlets supporting the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) used words and expressions such as “mob” and “undermining stability and order” when talking about the protesters. Many people understand that this kind of language is biased labeling used to discredit the protests, because most protesters, including those protesting against the agreement, are simply members of the public that do not agree with a certain issue, and not a violent mob.
Media opposed to the President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration are also guilty of this kind of crudity and defamation when they talk about tyranny without going into a deeper discussion of the pact.
With regard to the recent protest, the media should have discussed and explained the issues. For example what the agreement actually entails, what the impact would be if it were passed, what factors should be taken into consideration during negotiations and whether free trade is a good thing for Taiwanese. All this before they started to resort to using labels such as “mob” or “tyranny.” Still, during the one year or so since protest against the agreement began to be heard, most mainstream media outlets have never discussed these issues.
If this really is a case of government “tyranny,” the reasons for saying so should be explained. Perhaps the media — the fourth estate — have been neglecting their duties for so long that they now only resort to reporting gossip.
Although it is difficult to find in-depth discussions in the traditional media about the agreement and the protests, this discussion can be found in the independent media or the Facebook pages of individual reporters. This means that there is no shortage of people who are capable of such reporting, but that mainstream media are unwilling to provide the necessary space or resources.
In a climate of cutthroat competition, the mainstream media no longer rely on quality reporting to attract readers and viewers, but are instead cutting cost in order to increase profit. For example note the way new reporters are told to report on the destruction of public property, the sun cakes that Cabinet Deputy Secretary-General Hsiao Chia-chi (蕭家淇) said students had eaten during the short-lived occupation of the Executive Yuan, and the green jacket that student leader Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) wore — it is much easier and much cheaper.