More Taiwanese political talk shows that claim to be “in touch with the common folk” have gotten into the habit of inviting local people with an ordinary image to air their opinions on camera. These people sometimes act as if they are full of righteous indignation, but a lot of what they say simply makes no sense.
They have apparently been selected, embedded in the programs and given a script to read. They often use bogus statistics to mislead the audience, but they never take responsibility for the things they say.
On March 8, a Tainan pomelo farmer by the name of Chen (陳) was interviewed during a visit to the countryside by a news gossip program from CtiTV.
Chen claimed that Tainan pomelo growers had dumped 2 million tonnes of wendan (文旦) pomeloes in the Zengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) because China was not buying pomeloes from Tainan.
When someone pointed out that this claim made no sense, Chen changed the amount of dumped fruit to 2 million jin, or 1,200 tonnes, and changed the dumping site from the Zengwen Reservoir to the Zengwen River (曾文溪).
The Council of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Agency responded to Chen’s story by saying that it had paid farmers relief money on Oct. 2 last year, after severe weather damaged their crops, so Chen had received a relief payment.
It also said that all good-quality pomeloes had been sold last year and were not thrown into the Zengwen River.
When this drama started, it made people feel sorry for Chen and his fellow farmers, but the situation became ridiculous, and finally just made people angry because the program’s audience was treated like fools.
Talk shows such as this one are willing to sully their reputations for hidden motives. They have considerable influence on social perceptions, but their sense of social responsibility has gone out the window. This trend is likely to drag media standards even lower than they already are.
Political programs in Europe and America also have preset agendas, but rarely would they sacrifice their quality image by arranging for ordinary people to appear on camera and shoot their mouths off, all for the sake of attacking their opponents’ positions.
The real point of concern about this handful of Taiwanese political talk shows involves deep-seated issues of national security. As they go on misleading their audiences, month after month and year after year, they could gradually create and embed in the public’s mind the false impression that the government is neither willing nor able to govern.
Besides depending on the National Communications Commission to oversee the media, the Cabinet should instruct its spokespeople to hold regular news conferences in response to clearly proven major cases of fake news and disinformation.
It should use these news events to explain the facts so that the public can appreciate what the government is really doing. It should also tell the media and political chat shows that distort the news or falsify their sources of information that they need to restrain themselves and reflect on their wrongdoings.
The government really will be negligent if it allows a small number of media outlets to disrupt popular sentiment, disturb social order and undermine national security, all in the name of freedom of the press.
Tsao Yao-chun is a researcher with Transparency International Chinese Taipei and a supervisor of the Kaohsiung Society for Management of Technology.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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