Inaction supports fake news
The publication of a fake news report earlier this month contributed to the suicide of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office Osaka branch office director-general Su Chii-cherng (蘇啟誠), and left the career of Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) hanging in the balance.
The Ministry of the Interior has begun drafting an amendment to the National Security Act (國家安全法) while the National Communications Commission (NCC) has said that, when needed, it requires broadcast media organizations to participate in a review of internal fact-checking procedures and ethical guidelines.
Any evidence of factual inaccuracies that have caused damage to the public interest, or interfered with public order or the lives of law-abiding citizens would incur a maximum fine of NT$2 million (US$65,200).
While attending an event marking the opening of the campaign office of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung city councilor candidate Chung Yi-chung (鍾易仲), KMT Kaohsiung City Councilor Hsu Kun-yuan (許崑源) announced the results of an opinion poll conducted by National Cheng Kung University.
According to Hsu, the poll showed that KMT Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) — also in attendance — and his main opponent, Democratic Progressive Party candidate Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), were at a critical juncture in the race, with Han’s support rating having overtaken Chen’s by 1 percentage point.
This unverified, fake poll was immediately rebutted by the Chen camp, which dubbed the poll a puff-piece.
However, Han responded that the university is one of the most prestigious academic institutions in southern Taiwan and would have followed the correct procedures to ensure the objectivity and impartiality of its poll.
The pan-blue camp media went into overdrive with their coverage of the poll, which purported to show a remarkable turnaround for their favored candidate, including the headline by the Chinese-language United Daily News: “National Cheng Kung University poll shows Chen Chi-mai losing; Han Kuo-yu: No reason to question poll’s impartiality.”
The news report was picked up by other media outlets and republished, after which it spread across social media, including Facebook and Line.
However, less than 36 hours later, the lie was exposed by the university, which said it did not conduct the poll.
Surely, media outlets should fact-check before publishing articles.
By publishing the results of an opinion poll before it has been verified, it certainly seems as if domestic media organizations are essentially free to publish and then continually rebroadcast whatever they like, unimpeded by restrictions, in the pursuit of Web site hits and audience numbers.
While the commission has said it can impose fines of up to NT$2 million, we have yet to see any action.
There is no also precedent for the imposition of a fine, while those responsible are carrying on as if nothing has happened.
All that has happened is Kaohsiung city councilor candidates have delivered a letter of complaint to the Kaohsiung City Election Commission.
It is simply unacceptable that the individuals involved, who have brazenly flouted the law and behaved unethically, are able to get off scot-free.
By sitting on its hands while politicians fabricate an opinion poll, the government is indirectly encouraging the spreading of more lies.
Self-regulation is sometimes not enough: To avoid a repeat of the tragic death of a diplomat, the NCC has a duty to get involved.
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