Over the past decade, the public has grown used to hearing the word “scoop,” and some revelations from media and TV talk show personalities have caused significant political and social turbulence. However, in the world of professional journalism, there is no such thing as a responsible or an irresponsible scoop; there is only the exposure of irregularities by the media in the public interest. In short, revealing a scoop requires professionalism and must not be a frivolous enterprise.
In the 1960s, muckraking journalism was popular in the US press. Following careful investigations and interviews, human rights violations or corruption in society and government were exposed. The apotheosis was the Watergate scandal, which was uncovered by the Washington Post and led to the resignation of then-US president Richard Nixon.
However, muckraking was not carried out just to expose irregularities. The ethos for breaking news in this way must be that the story is in the public interest. Paparazzi belong with tabloid journalism rather than in major newspapers, because major papers must preserve their integrity. Taiwan’s paparazzi culture, which is spreading its influence on to other media, has long been an international laughingstock.
Muckraking must not be indiscriminate and must be backed by solid evidence. If a reporter gets a lead claiming that a social system is flawed or that a politician is involved in irregularities, the reporter must first conduct a careful and in-depth investigation, collect comprehensive evidence and double-check it to up a strong case before the report is published. Evidence must be uncovered all at once so that the target of the report does not get a chance to cover things up. When revealing the news, the reporter must not hesitate, insinuate or make ambiguous remarks.
Before revealing irregularities, reporters must have solid evidence that will hope up to the scrutiny of a judge if the target of the report decides to file a lawsuit. Reporters cannot just begin somewhere, hint at something, and then expect the target of the report to admit guilt. Neither can reporters make groundless accusations based on hearsay and then expect the justice system to pick up from there and start investigating the issue. If reporters cannot provide evidence, why should the accused respond to their gueswork?
Exposing irregularities is a serious and professional act on which journalists stake their reputations and careers. That was why the Washington Post so painstakingly double-checked all the facts in the Watergate report, making sure that they were not mistaken in any way, before they began uncovering the irregularities of the Nixon administration. At the outest of the disclosures, journalists from the three major TV networks were reluctant to follow suit, and it was only after more solid evidence was brought to light by the Washington Post that they started reporting the scandal.
By contrast, scoops in Taiwanese journalism, especially when exposing a politician’s misdeeds, are usually presented in the form of vague statements lacking sufficient evidence. The reporters then say that the target of the report is welcome to file a lawsuit so that everything will be cleared up in court.
If that is the case, why not simply bring their accusations and evidence directly to prosecutors instead of reporting it in their paper? In the end, their attempt at revealing irregularities might fail and their reputation for professionalism will suffer.
Delivering a scoop is not child’s play, and it must be conducted with the utmost professional expertise and according to the highest standards.
Hu Yu-wei is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communications.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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