More than 100 university professors from journalism and communications departments yesterday signed a petition to protest what they called a “rampant practice” of product placement in the media by the government and demanded that it immediately stop spending public money to promote its policies in such a manner.
Lin Lih-yun (林麗雲), a professor of journalism at National Taiwan University, told a press conference that journalism and communications professors had joined efforts to send a strong message to the government over its rampant practice of product placement, also known as “advertorials.”
Advertorials are a form of paid advertisement masquerading as objective news stories. An example would be a pharmaceutical company paying a reporter to write a story on the company’s new painkiller in the form of a seemingly objective article.
A total of 128 professors from 41 departments signed the petition.
Media outlets must also practice self-discipline by rejecting advertorials and the Cabinet and legislature should implement measures to improve the media industry in Taiwan, Lin Lih-yun said, citing the example of veteran reporter Huang Je-bing (黃哲斌), who on Dec. 12 resigned from the China Times newspaper, where he had worked for more than 16 years.
“Taiwanese newspapers are ahead of the world trend for paid promotional news. Since my ideas about this job seem outdated, I am resigning and going home,” Huang said in a statement at the time.
“Reporters have turned into advertising salesmen, while public relations firms and advertising companies have become news writers. The government and big corporations have their hands directly in the news desk, dictating the content of the stories,” he wrote.
Lin Lih-yun said Huang’s statement showed that most people operating in the news sector and media in Taiwan realized they were in a time of crisis.
“The news media have to report the truth and represent the public’s interests. As the fourth estate, the media are able to monitor government performance and promote democratic development. However, reporters’ hands are now tied. The government spends public funds to get policies published in the news media, practicing propaganda and brainwashing its citizens,” Lin Lih-yun said.
National Taiwan Normal University professor Lin Tung-tai (林東泰) said that although the government’s reliance on product placement started under the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), its use had become more serious under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
This is why US-based Freedom House downgraded Taiwan in the freedom of speech category in its latest report, Lin Tung-tai said.
Lin Yuan-hui (林元輝), a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate School of Journalism, said the Taipei City Government alone spent NT$130 million (US$4.3 million) from September through last month on product placement for the Taipei International Flora Exposition.
The National Communication Commission announced on Wednesday that it had revoked the license for ERA TV’s variety channel because of the company’s “repeat offenses” under the Satellite Broadcasting Act (衛星廣播電視法).
The commission said the network had embedded paid advertisements in its programs at least 49 times, for which it has been fined NT$16.75 million.
The station has denied any wrongdoing and is planning to appeal the decision.
However, the move has ignited a wave of concern and protest among the media that the case will set a precedent for the government to exert control over it.
Commenting on the case yesterday, Premier We Den-yih (吳敦義) said the revocation of the operating license had not been finalized and would depend on the ruling of an administrative appeal.
The decision is not settled, but needs to go through legal proceedings to decide whether the commission’s move was completely appropriate, Wu said after attending a folk ritual in Hualien County.
Asked whether the commission was too arbitrary in its first such move since its establishment in 2006, the premier said he is not in a position to comment on a decision made by an independent body.
Additional reporting by CNA
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