Democratizing Taiwan's media

By Chen Ping-hung 陳炳宏  / 

Fri, Nov 09, 2001 - Page 12

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has prompted a great deal of discussion over his expectations of the media, as propounded in his new book, expectations which have become generally known as "Chen's new middle road for the media." I would like to make a suggestion to Chen: The advocacy of the de-politicization of media ownership and the de-merger of media organizations is the new road that the media must follow. Let's tentatively call it the "new" new middle road for the media.

I want to remind Chen that anyone can have expectations of the media, but for a politician to do so is most inappropriate. Leaving aside concerns about encroachment on the freedom of the press and of journalistic professional-ism, and looking simply from the perspective of the media's role as a monitor of politicians, it puts the media in a difficult position when politicians trumpet their expectations of them.

This is precisely why, as the US attacks Afghanistan, the US and British governments beat very cautiously around the bush and only "suggest" or "remind" when it comes to the content of media reports, afraid of saying that they "place their hopes" on the media acting in a certain way. Chen should follow their example.

Let's move on to the substance of Chen's expectations of the media. He expects them to bring both bad news and good, which means that the focus of his expectations is on balanced content. Such expectations, however, ignore the fact that it really is the structure of the media that determines its basic output. He reflects a preoccupation with whether or not content is balanced, but no recognition of the problems facing the media in Taiwan.

Chen, in fact, should be no stranger to this topic since the white paper on the mass media that he published during last year's presidential campaign provides clear considerations and solutions. But he has probably been too busy with state affairs after being sworn in, and has simply forgotten about it.

Since he is now beginning to pay attention to media issues, I suggest that he, when he has time, once again flip through the white paper, since it contains a set of approaches that could help him in his consideration of the fundamental problems of the media.

This means that Chen can still advocate that the media follows the new middle road, but not the new middle road which he expects to provide balanced reporting. It should rather be the "new" new middle road which I referred to above. (I hope the authors of the mass media white paper will forgive some borrowing of the better parts).

In other words, if the problems of the media are to be solved in their entirety, not only should balanced reporting be considered, but work should also be begun on the structure of media ownership. This means an attempt to rid media ownership of politicization and excessive mergers, which is what I call the "new" new middle road for the media.

The creation of a public TV group, for example, might form part of such a strategy. This is the only way to facilitate a comprehensive solution to Taiwan's media problems. Otherwise, in the event of intervention by inappropriate external forces, it won't be important whether the media is reporting bad or good news, because the media's only concern will be who their master is.

Of course there is an element of idealism in the democratization of the media, but don't we all live for a few ideals? The scholars and experts advocating the creation of a public TV group are not so naive as to believe that it will eliminate all the forces that inappropriately influence the media.

I believe, however, that their only hope is for all the forces attempting to influence the media do so in open competition. This will achieve the goal of public monitoring instead of the present situation where the public always has to worry about whose dirty hands are controlling the media.

If democratization of the media is an ideal, then shouldn't everyone be thinking about it? I don't know how difficult it will be for the DPP if Chen doesn't immediately implement his mass-media white paper, and if power changes hands in the future. Will they once again mobilize people to besiege TV stations, or encourage them to stop subscribing to newspapers?

Chen Ping-hung is an associate professor in the Graduate Insti-tute of Mass Communication at National Taiwan Normal University.

Translated by Perry Svensson