Sat, Oct 20, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Better educated politicians needed

A workshop on media literacy in Taipei on Thursday saw several officials from Taiwan and the US talk about ways to combat disinformation and fake news, with much of the attention focused on disinformation campaigns by foreign or hostile players that use the openness and freedom of democratic societies to sow doubt and discord.

Such concern is warranted, given the cases of meddling in elections, referendums or public debate in several nations over the past years and the manipulation of social media that continues to be a problem.

Several speakers focused on the need to foster critical thinking and a better educated, better informed citizenry.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) said efforts to combat disinformation should center on producers and consumers of information: journalists, academics and the public, as well as governments.

However, one key source of disinformation, or at least misinformation, appeared to escape notice at the workshop: politicians and other public figures, whose statements all too often go unchallenged.

The lack of challenge is partially due to laziness on the part of traditional and social media outlets that do not want to spend time fact-checking before releasing a story, as well as the competitive nature of the news cycle, but it is also due to the way media events are staged, with critical questions discouraged, especially if they deviate from the message.

One recent example was the fuss raised by the Formosa Alliance when its application to hold a rally on Ketagalan Boulevard today was denied, forcing it to choose another, smaller location.

The rally is to demand that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government amend the Referendum Act (公民投票法) to allow plebiscites on independence, and the alliance claimed that the DPP and the government had conspired with Taipei officials to bar it from using Ketagalan.

However, the truth is that for more than a decade, the Dream Community (夢想社區) has held its annual Dream Parade from Liberty Plaza to Renai Road and Ketagalan Boulevard on the third Saturday in October. The community has been promoting the parade for several months, while the alliance only announced plans for the rally on Aug. 31.

Another example is the fuss over a resupply visit to the Port of Kaohsiung — its fourth this year — by the RV Thomas G. Thompson, which triggered questions from lawmakers and the public about Taiwan-US military contacts, foreign policy and angering China.

However, the Thomas G. Thompson, which is owned by the US Office of Naval Research, is hardly a representative of the US Navy, whose commissioned ships are designated by the prefix “USS,” or supply ships, which have the prefix “USNS.”

The Thomas G. Thompson is a research ship operated under a charter agreement by the University of Washington’s School of Oceanography as part of the University National Oceanographic Laboratories System, hence the prefix “RV” for research vessel.

Last month saw even more disturbing instances of politicians not checking basic facts, when Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Arthur Chen (陳宜民) cited a report by the Chinese consulate in Osaka that claimed it had evacuated more than 1,000 Chinese from the city’s airport after it was damaged by Typhoon Jebi, as he criticized the government and the nation’s office in Osaka for not helping Taiwanese stuck at the airport.Granted, the consulate’s statement had been reported by Xinhua and other media (before it was discovered to be fake news), but Japanese officials had repeatedly been quoted in Japanese and international media reports as saying that they were trying to evacuate passengers and staff as fast as they could and only their own transport vehicles were being used.

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