Sun, Mar 31, 2019 - Page 6 News List

EDITORIAL: Being free to pick a news bias

Students at two of the nation’s top public universities on Tuesday called for a ban of CtiTV broadcasts on campus, saying the network presents biased news coverage.

The students’ demands are understandable, given that the National Communications Commission levied heavy fines against CtiTV this week for failing to check facts, but the problem is broader than just one network.

The walls of many public spaces today are adorned with TVs, which are often set to news channels. This might be beyond a person’s control in a private establishment, such as a restaurant or cafe, but every news network has a political bias and people in a public facility should not have a bias forced on them.

The bias that a public establishment selects to tune in to is likely rooted in the facility’s underlying party loyalty. Taipei’s public gyms often set their TVs to Global News (寰宇新聞) or other networks that favor the pan-blue camp, likely because the gyms are administered by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-affiliated China Youth Corps.

Broadcasting this bias is unacceptable in gyms run by the municipality, which is there to serve the public good, regardless of a person’s political views. This problem is not unique to Taiwan. In the US, many government-run airports are paid large sums to broadcast CNN, which is considered to favor the US’ Democratic Party.

Governments should do more to stop news networks of whatever political stripe from being broadcast in public spaces. People might think that they can tune out the message and avoid being affected by the bias, but this might not be the case. An eight-year study cited in an article on The Conversation Web site on Sept. 11 last year showed that people might change their behavior based on the political views regularly presented to them.

The results are particularly disquieting when networks are found broadcasting information without checking the facts adequately or presenting certain views with questionable motives. The article said that people could also experience a “spiral of silence,” in which someone might avoid expressing a dissenting opinion that they believe — perhaps wrongly — is in the minority.

The article said that proprietors can contribute to a “false consensus effect,” in which some proprietors might be catering to a viewpoint that they misunderstand to have the general public’s support.

No political view has a general public consensus. There are always people who see things differently, which is why people generally avoid talking about politics and religion in public. It is a healthy democracy that allows networks that cater to various political viewpoints to exist — but those views should never be forced on the public.

In Taiwan, where China’s attempts to influence the public and meddle with the political process are well understood, and in the US, where Russian interference in the previous US presidential election has been alleged, interference should be quashed wherever it occurs.

Taiwan and the US have freedom of the press. Resolving political interference should not mean limiting this freedom, but rather holding the press accountable to a high standard of integrity in their reporting, and keeping public spaces politically neutral by prohibiting news broadcasts or political advertising in those spaces.

At universities, different views are explored and discussed, but the discussion should take place in the context of, for example, political science courses. Students should be free to enjoy school cafeterias and other common areas without having a specific bias forced on them. TVs in public spaces should be free of divisive content.

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